Students upset over unclear event rules

02/27/2020

Hallie Lauer | news editor

When the Duquesne University College Republicans wanted to host a movie screening event on Feb. 23, they received permission from university administration. The movie, titled Unplanned, follows the life of a Planned Parenthood executive who reverses her abortion views and becomes pro-life.

They also received permission to hang flyers on campus advertising the event that said, “Pro-choice? I challenge you to watch this movie.”

But after at least one student raised concerns about the poster — and many were pulled down — the Office of Student Life reversed course and instructed Alec Skomo, the president of the College Republicans, in an email, that the flyers could not be replaced.

“Students have expressed concerns that members of our campus community feel distressed, due to personal or family experiences with the content matter at hand. In this light we are not letting the posters be rehung,” the email said.

The event went on as scheduled, with about 20 people in attendance, even after being included in the DU Activities Weekly Events email blast.

Skomo was frustrated by the university stopping advertisements for the event.

“I feel they are censoring us and allowing it to not be as successful as it could be,” he said.

Imani Chisom, one of the students who had voiced complaints about the posters, was also frustrated, wondering exactly how events on campus are approved.

Chisom has been involved in organizations like Ebony Women for Social Change, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated and the Multicultural Program Council (which is no longer functioning on campus). She has also worked on a number of programs that have run into roadblocks similar to this one.

As an event for Alpha Kappa Alpha, their group had planned on holding a “Trap Karaoke” night.

“We experienced a lot of pushback, and I would say threats, from the event and conference services saying that trap wasn’t Duquesnable,” she said.

The issue surrounding this event came from the word “trap” which, in this context, is a term from the ‘90s that defines a certain subgenre of hip-hop music — current artists like Future and Drake are often considered to perform under the umbrella of trap.

Regarding the screening of Unplanned, Chisom made clear that it wasn’t the topic of the event that was the problem, but rather the portrayal of the topic in the posters.

“I reached out to Dr. Frizzell and a few people in the Center for Student Involvement just to tell them that some of the female students on campus that I’ve had conversations with were uncomfortable with the event,” said Chisom.

Events like this can be particularly difficult for female members of the campus community to deal with, she continued, as it may bring up traumatic experiences from their personal lives.

Both Skomo and Chisom separately mentioned the controversy over the Gender Neutral Fashion Show event and its posters, in questioning what the standard and criteria are for holding events on campus.

The term “Duquesnable” is an expression that came about from students themselves, and is used in reference to something that reflects the mission of Duquesne.

According to Adam Wasilko, the assistant vice president for the Center for Student Involvement, the term is not used in an official university capacity to determine whether or not an event can happen, but there is a separate process that takes into consideration various factors and depends on the program type.

“Offices such as University Conference and Event Services or the Center for Student Involvement are usually the starting point for proposed events, but it depends on whether the event is a residence hall program, dining event, faculty program, DPC event, etc.,” Wasilko said.

According to Sarah Murtha, the student event specialist in the Conference and Event Services Office, any event held by a student organization must meet the guidelines in the Student Organization Handbook. The handbook can be found on the Campus Link pages for CSI and Conference and Event Services.

“I also often meet one on one with student event coordinators to discuss all the details of their big events,” Murtha said. “A lot of event info is communicated that way as well.”

The student handbook acts as a general guide for events, but they are specifically handled on a case by case basis.

Chisom and Skomo think the university needs to provide more clarity for organization leaders when scheduling events on campus.

“The students who accept admissions to Duquesne understand Duquesne’s religious ties; moving forward we would not like Duquesne to disregard its religious tradition. We understand that things need to be Duquesnable, but if you’re going to make that the standard, it should be the standard,” Chisom said.

 

**This story was updated at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 27 to add the comments from the Conference and Event Services Office. 

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