In the Age of Disinvitation, it’s to Ohio State’s credit that K.C. Johnson was not only invited to speak, but allowed to speak. Prevailing collegiate wisdom is that no sounds should be uttered that could hurt any students’ feelings, and K.C., if nothing else, was going to say things that would make students sad.
Johnson, who co-wrote the book about the false rape allegation against the Duke lacrosse team, has been trying to bring sanity back to the debate over how college campuses handle sexual assault accusations by explaining repeatedly that accused students should not be convicted based on an allegation, without the ability to defend themselves.
And that’s where the activists disagree.
After all, hearing words that don’t confirm their deeply held feelings has become unacceptable in the world of intellectual growth and freedom. It’s both the nouvelle view of free speech, redefined to mean only speech with which students agree, combined with the neo-feminist view of rape being conclusively proved by accusation, false or not.
Protesters showed up to his lecture with homemade signs and t-shirts that said “rape is real” (no one is saying it isn’t) and “sex without consent is always rape” (no one is saying otherwise). They stood up when he was about to speak and blocked the audience’s view of Johnson.
Sadly, that pretty much characterizes the depth of intellectual grasp put into the issue. It’s reminiscent of the reaction of those who can’t grasp that the definition of rape matters. To those who believe, the actual work of thought is far too hard to attempt; it could make their head explode and leave a nasty mess. At the same time, it precludes anything approaching thoughtful discussion, which requires a basic understanding of the issues.
One member of the group F*ckRapeCulture accused Johnson of disrespecting women.
“As a member of F*ckRapeCulture, we appreciate you coming to validate our fight against rape apologists such as yourself,” said Claire Chadwick, who helped start the group. “You clearly do not respect women or any survivor of sexual assault.”
Certainly, a sound basis upon which to build a discussion, right? But K.C. would not be goaded, and proceeded to speak.
Johnson’s lecture . . . mainly that students accused of sexual assault are afforded no due process, not even in the media, which rarely if ever give the accused’s side of the story in he said/she said situations. One way they do this, Johnson argued, is by referring to the accused as “rapist” and the accuser as “victim” or “survivor” without any evidence in the case to suggest either title is necessary.
Afterward, he took questions, including those from protestors.
Johnson told the Examiner that activists asked about half the questions during that session of his lecture. He said some questions were “off the wall,” like one activist who claimed an FBI report stated the rate of false rape accusations was one per 2.7 million.
What was remarkable about this exchange, beyond the fact that Ohio State allowed it to happen at all, was that K.C. persisted in his talk despite the confrontation. While free speech makes it fair to meet speech with which one disagrees with counterspeech, efforts of the protestors to shout out K.C. and block him from the audience view isn’t counterspeech, but the heckler’s veto. It’s an effort to silence speech rather than allow it, and then counter it.
Yet. K.C. was above the fray.
Johnson said that overall, the questions from activists and supporters were respectful, and the protesters were “not obstructionist” after they first sat down (with one exception, when students mistook Johnson’s comments about minorities being harmed by an erosion of due process to mean the opposite).
In a statement to the student-run publication, the New Political, Johnson said he respected the student’s right to protest.
This was a very gracious reaction by K.C., as the right to protest doesn’t mean the right to silence the opposition. Yet, as he was eventually able to speak, even if the audience wasn’t inclined to hear what he had to say, it furthered the point that the substantive merit of providing every person with due process far exceeds screaming “rape apologist” at the top of one’s lungs.
“I think on this issue, most times when the issue is raised by anyone who is not uncritically accepting of activist viewpoints, you get these kinds of protests,” Johnson said. “People have a First Amendment right to protest. My general sense is that if you’re confident in your opinion, you’re able to engage critically rather than in protest, but everyone has the right to handle protests as they see fit.”
And indeed, K.C. was confident of his view, even though so many have chosen to blind themselves from reason or tolerance in their zeal to avoid getting the needless headaches caused by thought that challenges their dogma.