Elon University’s SGA and student media organization Elon News Network (ENN) co-sponsored a town hall dialogue Thursday night addressing the issue of free speech on college campuses.
The event, moderated by ENN Executive Director senior Tommy Hamzik, featured a candid discussion on Washington Post columnist’s Kathleen Parker’s recent Baird Pulitzer Prize lecture at Elon. More than 300 students petitioned Parker’s appearance because of her controversial views on sexual assault and feminism. Some also felt she was condescending and abrasive during the Q&A session of her speech.
Hamzik and SGA Executive President senior Kyle Porro have been planning the event for almost a month, and with a polarizing election season nearing a climax, Hamzik said there was no better time to re-evaluate the social climate among peers.
“Our goal is to have a meaningful dialogue and enact change,” Hamzik said. “Kathleen Parker coming has sparked more controversy and flare on our campus than I can ever remember. Everyone on both sides of the spectrum had varying opinions on her and her being here, but I'm happy we were able to have a good constructive dialogue tonight."
About 83 students came to the town hall, and faculty members present included Jana Lynn Patterson, dean of Student Health and Wellness, and Paul Parsons, dean of the School of Communications. The event ended after more than an hour, and Hamzik said he had talking points he didn’t even get to address in the interest of time.
Numerous students chimed in during the discussion and offered their opinions. Their remarks were divided, as some said they were disappointed in Parker’s attitude, while others said they understood why the columnist presented a defensive front.
One of the most powerful statements came from senior Stephanie Scro, who said the administration willing allowed her to be humiliated by Parker during the Q&A session. When Scro asked Parker a question, the columnist frequently interrupted her and accused her of, “boring people.”
Scro said she felt abandoned by the administration. She also implied that, by refusing to listen to the students on this issue and take action, the administration was inadvertently siding with an outsider instead of the students.
“[Elon President] Leo Lambert was sitting in the audience, and he did not stand up and grab the microphone,” Scro said. “He let that woman stand up there and call me boring and belittle an entire community.”
Porro said he was happy with the turnout of the event. He hopes to co-sponsor town hall events with other organizations on the first Thursday of every month and said this was a great starting point going forward.
“I could not be happier with tonight,” Porro said. "This was our first ever town hall, and I think we got off on a great foot.”
This story will continue to be updated.