Dear President and Members of the Conservative Student Union,
Thank you for inviting us to attend your “Campus Rape Hysteria: False Statistics and the Assault on Due Process” event. We are heartened to learn that conservative groups on campus are motivated to understand and combat the harm sexual violence wreaks, both on our campus and around the world.
Unfortunately, based on a cursory overview of the credentials of your proposed speaker, Andrew Cavarno, we must decline to participate. Sexual violence is an important but complex issue, and we fear any discussion which does not begin with a deep grasp of the scientific literature will be counterfactual and ultimately unproductive. In fact, uninformed conversation may only cause further emotional trauma to members of our community. We believe it is not your intention to cause harm to the many students, faculty, and staff members at UCI who have survived sexual violence. Intentions aside, however, we hope you will take responsibility for the harm already done by the lead-up to this event.
Your invitation expressed a desire “to spawn respectful dialogue and debate on this important topic.” We will not question your sincerity. However, we have some suggestions for how you might approach such events in the future, if your goal is a respectful exchange of ideas:
- Make sure you fully understand the issue. The individual speaking on Thursday appears not to have any credential or qualification to speak about this difficult subject. There are several outstanding UCI faculty members who can speak in great depth about statistical methodologies and/or the history of rape and sexual assault. Please don’t hesitate to ask us for an introduction if you’re unsure how to get in touch with them.
- Frame your event as a debate, not a talk. For example, depoliticize the event title. Offer equal speaking time to those who disagree with you. Instead of a unidirectional Q&A session, require that each speaker submit to cross-examination for a set period of time. Require that all parties cite the sources they will use in advance, so that everyone can analyze both their content and credibility. Good-faith debates about tough issues are an exemplary feature of elite academic institutions like ours; straightforward guidelines like these markedly improve the quality and rigor of such conversations.
- Respect survivors. Using terms like “hysteria” in your advertising demeans survivors of sexual assault on campus, and tabling makes it harder for those experiencing post-traumatic stress to get through the school day unaffected by your rhetoric. If you wish to have an open dialogue between individuals with different viewpoints, you should not drive others away with your initial actions. We realize this can be difficult, and we would be happy in the future to help you choose words which let affected individuals feel welcome, rather than threatened by, your event.
Thank you again for the invitation. We hope to meet with you in the future, in a forum that reflects the seriousness of the subject matter.
The Feminist Illuminati of UCI