Gender violence presentation fires up student body


Image: Marin Guta

Anti-sexist activist Jackson Katz debriefs on Gender Violence presentation with a small group of students.

Marin Guta , Digital Editor

The SHAPE Q&A session on gender violence in Willingham Hall sparked a controversial debate Tuesday night.   

Over 800 students attended anti-sexist activist Jackson Katz’s lecture, “Taking it Personally: Why Gender Violence is an Issue for Men.” The event was mandatory for student athletes, students of the Greek community and a handful of students who were required to go for class.

Katz’s presentation touched on how sexual violence bystanders have a responsibility to speak up, and he also challenged students on how they view sexual assault. During the early portion of Katz’s lecture, distracted students listened and scrolled through their social media feeds on their phones.

When Katz opened the floor for the question and answer portion, the conversation heated up.

The first question came from sophomore Tyler Arnold who said he felt disappointed that Katz’s presentation did not include women’s violence against men. Arnold cited  2012 study from the Center for Disease Control, showing 40 percent of men were victims of sexual violence to justify his point that these types of abuses or assaults weren’t given enough attention.

Arnold’s question elicited an applause from the audience.

Senior Chancey Straily, who agreed with Arnold, stood up from her seat and said she found Katz’s talk to be offensive. She said she didn’t see how Katz could dismiss the male victims of sexual violence and then seek their help. She also said that she didn’t believe women needed to be saved by men.

The crowd’s growing chatter and sporadic applause made it difficult for Katz to hear the other questions.

“I’m sorry,” Katz said. “The acoustics in this room are terrible.”

The audience became restless and shouted out their opinions as Katz continued the Q&A. He paused a couple of moments to wipe the sweat off his forehead and struggled to regain the audience’s attention.

“My emotional response is that I spent an hour talking about this issue, and it all got high jacked with the first question,” Katz said to the crowd during the Q&A.

As the room’s temperature and emotions steadily climbed, students fanned themselves with presentation surveys handed out by SHAPE. Katz took two more questions and then shifted the talk to the media’s perception on gender violence by showing a couple of clips from a documentary.

Katz said he planned on showing one more clip but was unable to because of technical difficulties. Before Katz could make his closing remarks, students got up from their seats and filed out of the auditorium.

Some students who remained in the audience said that they were shocked that students left before the end of the presentation.

“At Mercer, we believe we have an extremely accepting environment, and I was set off by the blatant disrespect,” said sophomore Reed Jones. “I hold Mercer Bears to a higher standard, and this goes against how I think Mercerians should act.”

Mercer’s Title IX Coordinator Melissa Nunn, who coordinated the event, anticipated backlash from students.

“I know our students are not getting the point,” she said. “We still have a lot more education to do.”

However, the verbal parrying didn’t douse Nunn’s optimism. Instead, she said she felt encouraged to see students get passionate about the topic.

“It was a total success . . . I had not seen students so passionate, and there was obviously energy in the room,” she said.

At the end of the talk, a small group of students gathered around Katz to ask more questions, some of them apologizing for their peers’ disrespect.

Katz said he anticipated a certain level of resistance from a mandatory event, and he viewed the event as a success because students were engaged.

“I think it’s was a positive educational evening,” he said. “Overall, I give Mercer an A for the event.”