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Feminist media critic cancels at USU, students rally for free speech

October 15th, 2014 Posted in Opinion

By Katherine Larsen
Photos by Noelle Johansen and Chris McGinty

LOGAN — Death threats are nothing new to Anita Sarkeesian, but they’re not an everyday occurrence at Utah State University. After hearing of an email that threatened her life, Sarkeesian cancelled her speech that was scheduled for Wednesday at USU.

In place of Sarkeesian’s speech, a rally supporting feminism and of freedom of speech hosted by Matthew Staheli and Aly Johnson was held on the Taggart Student Center patio at USU.

USU student Asher Puriri at the rally for feminism and free speech. Photo by Noelle Johansen.

“I think it’s absolute crap that someone has to use violence to shut down someone else’s opinion,” said Emma Davis, a junior in mechanical engineering and member of the Society of Women Engineers. “I mean this is a university campus where we are supposed to learning outside opinions, and if you can’t even express your opinion here, where are you going to find it?” She held a sign that read, “Opinions do not constitute death threats. I am a feminist.”

“Honestly I was just going to come out here on my own and stand here.” Davis said. “Then I just saw a Facebook post about an half an hour ago that said, ‘hey there’s a rally on the patio.’ So here I am with my sign, waiting for the rally to come.”

As an added security measure, police officers were at the demonstration. “We were told to act as, ‘business as usual today,’” said Sgt. Jessica Vahsholtz of the USU Police. “We’ve been instructed to be in the area. We have officers up here, three here right now making sure everything is peaceful.”

The threat came during the Center for Women and Gender’s Clothes Line project, which focuses on violence against women. Among others, the email was sent to CWG Director Ann Austin, and threatened the staff of that office.

“I was angry and really sad,” said Austin of her reaction to the email. “This happened at the same time as our Clothes Line project, which is about violence against women. This event is a massive example of violence against women, violence against free speech, even though thank God no blows were fired.”

The email was also sent to others at USU, including Tim Vitale, executive director of public relations and marketing for the university. The  email included threats to those attending the event and promised that “this will be the deadliest school shooting in American history.”

“When we got the letter we began a widespread investigation,” Vitale said. “At the same time, we prepared to receive extra measures for security.”

As to the letter impacting restrictions on future speakers, Vitale said that USU would continue to promote freedom of speech. “We are not going to let one letter challenge us in that regard,” he said.

Faculty and students gather at Utah State University at a demonstration for feminism and free speech. Photo by Chris McGinty.



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