American University cancels “Unsafe Space” Title IX discussion on dubious grounds

I’ve written before about the Spiked website’s “Unsafe Space” tour, which is going around to various colleges discussing controversial issues. This is no Milo Yiannopoulos “Rile ‘Em Up” tour; rather, it has people like Wendy Kaminer, Jonathan Haidt, Nadine Strossen (past head of the ACLU), Steve Pinker, Laura Kipnis, Bret Weinstein, and Sarah Haider discussing issues like identity politics, the role of the Regressive Left in Trump’s election, and other issues that, while controversial, aren’t meant to incite demonstrations or violence. In fact, I have tickets to the November 6 presentation at Harvard with Kaminer, Pinker, Brendan O’Neill, and Robby Soave.

One of the panels was scheduled for September 28 at American University; here it is:

Note that the venue wasn’t American University (AU), but Reason Magazine. Why? Because, according to a post by participant Elizabeth Nolan Brown,  AU canceled the panel on the grounds that space wasn’t available because the panel was classified as a “meeting” rather than “event.” (That apparently hasn’t led to cancellations at AU before.) Brown thinks that the real reason, which seems likely, is that the AU branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) had organized a campaign titled “Keep Our Campus Safe”, which has its own Facebook page. The header gives its obvious intent (click on screenshot to go to the page)—NO DISCUSSION!

To their credit, the AAUW didn’t try to shut down the discussion, and called for counter-speech, but they also characterized the panel as “hate speech” and “violence” that could induce trauma (my emphasis):

The Unsafe Space Tour is coming to AU. What do they want to talk about? Completely revising and undoing decades of work by activists around campuses across the country to make campuses safer for victims of sexual violence.

So let’s show them what WE think of Title IX.

Come join AAUW at AU to show the Unsafe Space Tour that WE SUPPORT TITLE IX!

During the Q+A portion of the event, line up with us and let them know exactly how YOU feel about Title IX at AU.

. . . A note on First Amendment rights to free speech: AAUW at AU fully supports free speech. This does not mean we support forcing marginalized students to hate speech and other forms of violence and trauma.

That last bit is weaselly, because they say that this panel, and the “hate speech” that it was supposedly to purvey, is not free speech.  And, when the panel was moved, the AAUW site posted this, along with two comments from Annamarie Rienzi, affiliated with the student group, Young Americans for liberty, that hosted the event.

As we’ve discussed before, the Obama administration’s “Dear Colleague” revisions to Title IX are problematic, and certainly deserve discussion, as they’ve led to a horrible mess and mass confusion, about how sexual assaults and harassment on campuses are to be adjudicated. It is not “hate speech” to have such a discussion. But the AAUW clearly wasn’t interested in doing anything but harassing speakers during the Q&A (at least they weren’t going to “shut it down”). But then saying that they’re “STOKED” to announce that the discussion has been canceled (it was just moved) gives away their real motivation: to keep this discussion from taking place.

While Nolan Brown isn’t that interested in recrimination, and wants to discuss what the panel actually said, I am perturbed that a respectable academic women’s group wanted to drive this discussion away, apparently on the grounds that even questioning the revision of Title IX’s stipulations is “hate speech”—something that cannot be tolerated.

h/t: BJ


  1. ploubere
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    When academics are afraid of speech, what hope is there?

    • Paul S
      Posted October 17, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      Worse, they’re celebrating the suppression of speech.
      At what point do they look in the mirror and realize they’re the baddies.

    • tony walters
      Posted October 17, 2017 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      I agree.

      Our President calls for athletes to be fired for civil protest. Our President calls for a commentator to be fired for calling him a white supremacist. Our President calls for a broadcast networks to have it’s license revoked for reporting he doesn’t like.

      Where is the thanks for _his_ courage in asking for people to be fired?

      Some student council somewhere objects to speakers and gets all this reaction. Our President, much more powerful and courageous than a student council He repeatedly calls for people to be fired and licenses to be revoked, but doesn’t get the the same praise? What hope is there indeed.

      • Posted October 17, 2017 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

        “Our president”. I know that’s the correct form but -holy cow- it sure stings when the next word is “Trump”. In the current context it does great violence to the idea that the presidency is an office that should be respected. I just can’t bring myself to use the phrase. Not until 2020 anyway.

        • tony walters
          Posted October 17, 2017 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

          The regressive left, still unable to say the title and name of the man duly elected by the people. As ploubere asked, “what hope is there?”

          • yazikus
            Posted October 17, 2017 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

            Well, duly elected by the electoral college, at any rate. The people might have had a different idea. That said, who exactly, on the ‘regressive left’, can’t say ‘President Trump’?

          • nicky
            Posted October 18, 2017 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

            Duly elected? There are serious doubts about that, see for example the extraordinary discrepancy between exit polls and actual count in swing states.

  2. Jeff Rankin
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    The AAUW rep is _proud_ that it was “cancelled”. Yikes.

    • Travis
      Posted October 17, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Even with claims to support of freedom of speech, we all know that feminism is the only acceptable dogma and speaking against it (in any form except maybe TERFs) is blasphemy.

      • Norbert Francis
        Posted October 17, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

        Get ready for the Blasphemy Law that is coming if these people ever get into power. In some places they are already. Hate Speech indeed. Forum on free expression and against censorship denied space on campus. Does anyone there see a problem in how these words are in the same sentence? We better hold onto our hats. It’s going to be a (long) rough ride before reason returns to this debate in “higher” education. So far democracy is losing.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted October 17, 2017 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

        So one feminist group is pleased a meeting is moved off campus, which they apparently didn’t ask for, and you tar all feminists.

        There is a spectrum of feminists, and there are several I certainly wouldn’t want to be associated with. However, all being a feminist means is wanting equality for women. What exactly is wrong with that?

        Why do so many men have an issue with women receiving fair and equal treatment? And I don’t want to go down a rabbit hole talking about dirty or dangerous jobs – jobs most men aren’t capable of or wouldn’t want to do either. I’m talking about everyday situations. What is so wrong with wanting to be treated equally?

        • BJ
          Posted October 17, 2017 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

          You’re usually above accusing people who have a problem with modern, fourth-wave feminism of somehow being against equality between men and women. I think we can be relatively certain that when the poster above mentioned “feminism, ” they meant the way they most commonly see feminism practiced by the most prominent current feminists, and all the popular feminist theory being published. And what at least seems like the most common form of feminism from the loudest and most visible has nothing to do with equality, which is a statement you’ve agreed with in the past. And while you might not agree that the people I’m referring to are the most common and/or prominent in the current wave, it’s clear you agree that those people don’t represent a feminism that just means “equality between men and women.”

        • Travis
          Posted October 17, 2017 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

          1: I didn’t tar all feminists. I was talking about what was allowed to be criticized and what wasn’t.

          2: If that’s all feminism meant we wouldn’t have only a fifth of people (in the US, and less elsewhere) identify as feminists but the vast majority of people accept what you claim is the only tenet of feminism.

        • Cate Plys
          Posted October 17, 2017 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

          I agree with Heather. Just as true progressives would never conflate civil rights in general with supporting, say, everything done in the name of Black Lives Matter, so true progressives need to be careful not to conflate feminism in general with everything done and said by various groups calling themselves feminists.

          Heather did give the proper definition of feminism. The reason so many women fail to identify as feminists is precisely because those who oppose equality for women have always striven–so successfully!–to re-define the term to mean more, and to mean support for more issues that many people disagree with.

          I doubt there are many regular commenters on this site who don’t support equal rights for women, including the people on this thread. Anyone who does is ipso facto a feminist. So, along with Heather, I would ask that anyone who supports equal rights for women to help oppose the ongoing attempt to make “feminist” a dirty word. Please criticize specific groups and policy positions, not the general concept of feminism, just as you would not oppose the general concept of civil rights.

          • BJ
            Posted October 17, 2017 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

            “The reason so many women fail to identify as feminists is precisely because those who oppose equality for women have always striven–so successfully!–to re-define the term to mean more, and to mean support for more issues that many people disagree with.”

            If the definition of feminism has shifted in the minds of the public, it’s not because of opponents to feminism. Language changes, and the definitions of words change. I appreciate that people like you and Heather wish to reclaim the original definition of feminism, but you have a hell of a fight on your hands, and it’s not because of the movement’s opponents. Read any number of blog posts, articles, and tweets from sites like,, huffpost, and most of the other most popular feminist sites on the internet. These are the most prominent public faces of feminism. When it comes to the intellectual face, any textbook or assigned reading from a gender studies or intersectional feminism class at a college will suffice. It’s not your fault, and it’s not Heather’s fault that this is the case, but it’s the unfortunate truth.

            I find all of this sad likely for the same reasons you do: when people think that this is all feminism is and ever was, they’re likely to reject anything and everything associated with feminism, and that’s not healthy for women or society.

          • Travis
            Posted October 17, 2017 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

            I have to be honest… this is about the worst excuse I’ve heard for why feminism isn’t a widely adopted label.

            Can’t I just throw that reason at other groups like the KKK, BLM, etc.?
            Claim the only reason they get a bad rap is the evil “oppressor group” (patriarchy according to feminists)?

            You can’t just claim all the good feminism has accomplished and ignore the bad. Feminists are responsible for the duluth model, for example. Not just a minor group, either. The major feminist organizations all push the same ideology: women are victims, men are oppressors and don’t do enough. Oh, I mean “patriarchy” is an oppressor. not “men”. totally different, right?

            Look at NOW, White Ribbon, HeForShe. White Ribbon for example pushes the idea that only men are perpetrators of domestic violence and only women are the victims. This ties directly to the duluth model.

            Feminism doesn’t just mean advocating for equality. It’s right in the name: fight for women’s equality (and privileges and more, whether or not this is at the expense of men). The problem is that feminism can’t see male victimhood without blaming it all on men (patriarchy). Feminism largely removes female agency (not holding women to the same standards as men.. in fact society is largely guilty of this – look at convictions or lack thereof for sex crimes by female teachers for example). Men are held to a higher standard in this case. We pretend that they have more agency and hold them more responsible, even for the choices that women make (two people drink and have sex – the man is responsible).

            I could go on and on. It’s not just the opposition tarring feminists and their reputation. It is a direct result of what feminism does and what feminist organizations do.

            • Travis
              Posted October 17, 2017 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

              and to elaborate I don’t blame feminism for all these problems (for some of them I absolutely do, like the duluth model). They do perpetuate and magnify female victimhood and minimize male victimhood, though, in almost every way.

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted October 17, 2017 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

            Thanks Cate. 🙂

            • Marlene Zuk
              Posted October 18, 2017 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

              And thanks Heather.

        • Blue
          Posted October 17, 2017 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

          Here, since merely ~four months’ time ago in
          June 2017, AllWeAll go … … a g a i n:

          exactly because Ms Hastie and Ms Plys and
          a passel of Us Other Apparently Publicly
          Discussing Nuisances Here, a passel of both
          women and men, keep having always.always.always.,
          obviously withOUT ANY successes on our parts,
          … … to keep always having to point out
          The Truth from the Striving to Oppose
          Females’ Equality – Faux Definers.

          Radical Feminist
          An Apparently Public Nuisance

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted October 17, 2017 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

            Cheers Blue.

  3. Derek Freyberg
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    In other news, Governor Rick Scott of Florida declared a state of emergency yesterday because of a scheduled appearance by white nationalist Richard Spencer at the University of Florida this Thursday. The university reportedly says it will spend $500K on security.

  4. DrBrydon
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    That dodge about “meeting” vs. “event” is a great example of the way regulations can be used by functionaries to stifle free speech. How about this for a rule: If a college wants to prevent speech on campus, it must go to court to stop it. Let’s assume that it’s ok, like the Constitution says.

  5. Posted October 17, 2017 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    FWIW, I give you due praise. Thanks for monitoring attempts to limit speech.

  6. Posted October 17, 2017 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    the AU branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW)

    Even the acronym sounds condescending: Aauw, bless!

  7. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Nadine Strossen is an extraordinarily shrewd debater. Three out of the 4 panelists are women. Goodness me!

  8. Kiwi Dave
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    “… forcing marginalized students to [listen to] hate speech…”

    Weaselly indeed. Would any students have been forced to attend the meeting and listen? Even the AAUW author must have realized how improbable such a claim is and omitted the words necessary to make sense of the sentence to conceal its untruth.

    And when you prevent students from hearing invited guests, who is marginalizing whom?

  9. jay
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    Gradually, Jerry, you are becoming a conservative by default. Not by your choice, but, as in previous times, society moves to trample standards you hold as important.

    It’s a shame to see this, but the Juggernaut is rolling. We are becoming the next wave of conservatives.

    • denise
      Posted October 17, 2017 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

      I’ve wondered if I ought to reconsider what I called myself politically, if I have really become more of a centrist. The terms leftist and progressive have become distasteful to me by association with certain dogmas.

      When I took the political compass test I scored quite far into one quadrant (-6.75, -6.82) and am now thinking what I am is a left libertarian.

      If the test had tried to put everything on one axis I probably would have come out as a slightly right-leaning centrist. But using one axis is a distortion. I don’t even know if two is enough. Do all our views really fall on two straight lines?

      I may be at odds with most liberals on some issues, but whatever that means it apparently doesn’t make me a conservative.

      • denise
        Posted October 18, 2017 at 2:26 am | Permalink

        Now that I’ve thought about it, I don’t understand the libertarian scale of this political compass test. While I am hardcore about freedom of speech, thought and belief, I am in favor of just about every other form of regulation that libertarians object to.

        I don’t buy this test after all.

        • Posted October 18, 2017 at 11:51 am | Permalink

          It does become a bit weird if you think (as I do) that (for example) corporations are a threat to freedom of assembly, expression, etc.

          In my view that’s an artifact of the US brand of “libertarians” (wittingly or otherwise) coopting the terminology.

      • Posted October 18, 2017 at 11:49 am | Permalink

        They don’t, as I discovered when debating with a friend. There is also an evolutionary/revolutionary axis, which in our case was the big difference between us.

        I wrote to the Political Compass folks to ask about this and suggest it for further work. I was not answered – not even a boilerplate “thanks!”.

  10. yazikus
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    From the flier:

    And academics are being disciplined for supposedly discriminatory speech.

    Am I the only one finding this bit odd?

    I don’t know, I think there could be interesting and productive discussion on these issues, but the framing presented in the flier doesn’t seem to seek to be doing that. Calling efforts to curb sexual assault and harassment a ‘preoccupation’ won’t start them on the right foot.

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