Editor's Note: This Op-Ed is in reference to the story, "Students petition selection of speaker Kathleen Parker."
Dear Kathleen Parker,
First, I’d like to thank you. The controversy around your visit to Elon University has at times made me so mad that I’ve actually gone to the gym to blow off steam.
I understand why you’re controversial — some of what you say about women, especially surrounding sexual assault, is really questionable, even hurtful. To call rape while intoxicated “drunk misbehaving” — yikes.
But I also understand why Elon still wants you to come. We can’t call ourselves an institution of higher learning if we don’t support views other than our own, even if they're severely uncomfortable. And I am so, so uncomfortable with you.
I value free discourse as much as the next guy. But frankly, some of your ideals scare me, especially your leniency with rape. I’m afraid there are Elon students out there who will fall too in love with what you say and decide that validation from a Pulitzer Prize winner is enough to make them decide they don’t need consent. I’m afraid your presence will be a catalyst that brings out the worst in the people who already have that evil in them.
But I have to acknowledge my biases. I’m going to be honest: It’s hard for me to separate the idea of healthy, intellectual climate from my own experiences with assault, either firsthand or some of the awful, awful stories my friends have.
Though sexual assault affects both men and women, the fact remains that it disproportionately affects women. Elon's student body is nearly 60 percent female. A 2015/2016 undergraduate enrollment of 5,903 equates to more than 3,500 women. According to RAINN, "Among undergraduate students, 23.1 percent of females ... experience rape or sexual assault." That's more than 800 women who have been sexually assaulted on Elon's campus alone. Based on how common it is not to report rapes, though, the number may be much higher.
So, of course this issue feels personal to me. But it hadn’t occurred to me until recently that maybe it’s not personal to everyone.
To some people, this really is just about free speech. I’ve felt at times that support of your presence is a personal attack on me. I’ve wondered, how could they champion free speech over other people’s safety? Over my own safety?
The reality is that this isn’t about me, and the people who want you here don’t hate rape victims. You probably haven’t factored survivors of sexual assault into your professional career, and I can’t make you. I assume you don’t intend to act out of malice. But here I am, hurt nonetheless. I can’t bring myself to view an issue so personal to me through the reductive lens of “intellectual discourse."
I fought to have you not come here, but you’re coming. I’m going to have to be OK with that.
In fact, get lunch with me. Get lunch with the kids who disagree with you coming here. If Elon wants controversy to lead to discussion, then we’re the exact people you should have a discussion with.
I hope that I can better understand your views. Maybe you’ll even come to understand ours. After all, understanding is the best remedy for fear.
Lunch is on me, Mrs. Parker. I’ll see you in October.