Controversial social commentator, sex therapist and ‘campus rape crisis’ critic, Bettina Ardnt, remains set to speak at the University of Western Australia despite several measures from the UWA Student Guild.
Since Pelican first reported on the confirmed speaking engagement, the UWA Student Guild and Universities’ Gender Equity Working Group has responded to the lecture set to be held on March 7, the day before International Women’s Day.
Arndt’s talk as described by her event description is intended to “challenge(s) the myth of the ‘rape crisis’ on university campuses… (as) she argues the current campus rape scare campaign is pushing universities into adjudicating rape cases without normal legal protections for the accused”.
In a statement, the UWA Guild said that “it is deeply concerning that Bettina Arndt will be speaking at the university in March to assert that there is no rape crisis on university campuses. The data from the Australian Human Rights Commission Change the Course Report and other studies is clear – university student experience sexual harassment and sexual assault at an alarming rate, and this should not be up for debate”.
Bre Shanahan, Guild Women’s Officer, also submitted a report to the Gender Equity Working Group. This group, consisting both of student and staff representatives, acts in accordance with their Terms of Reference in “ensuring that institutional structures, governance, policies and processes proactively support inclusion, diversity and equity”. Shanahan’s statement read:
“As part of UWA’s Inclusivity and Diversity strategic plan it was identified that routine campus
culture assessment must be done looking at personal attitudes and behaviours pertaining to
campus safety, sexual assault, perceptions of peers and perceptions of administration. It also
acknowledges that a commitment to inclusion and diversity at the highest level is required to
achieve the goal. This includes Inclusivity and Diversity remits for decision making, as well as
policies and procedures that support transformational leadership. The decision to host Ms Arndt
represents an attack on the accessibility, inclusivity and safety of the UWA campus environment, for both students and employees. I again re-iterate the Guild’s position that the decision should be reversed, and raise this to the Committee merely as an update on gender equity issues facing students on campus”.
According to the minutes of the meeting wherein this issue was raised, the Working Group eventually deemed that:
“This issue was discussed in the context of the wider university and the Freedom of Expression Working Group. This issue is out of the remit of this group in particular, and is already being dealt with at the highest levels of the university”.
Additionally, an open letter addressed to Vice Chancellor Dawn Freshwater expressed the views of the UWA Guild Womens’ Department:
“Allowing Ms Arndt on campus contributes to the dissemination of harmful attitudes that discourage reporting, and adopts a discourse that focuses on downplaying statistics rather than addressing the problem at heart – sexual violence. The decision represents a step backwards in the ongoing commitment by the university to address this issue on campus, conflicts with the core values you seek to uphold, and creates distrust towards the university administration on the part of students, parents and alumni”.
UWA has taken some action in response to the event being held on campus. During Arndnt’s talk at the University of Sydney late last year, riot police were called to break up protestors forcibly blocking attendee’s entrance to the event. UWA has adopted similar precautionary measures, requiring two security officers to be present at the venue during the talk.
Further, the University has prohibited Ardent to distribute promotional material on UWA grounds. However Arndt has been “paying students to distribute flyers at campus entrances” and urged more women to join in the volunteer effort for the event. On her website page mentioning the event, Ardn’t states that, “the goal is not just to sell tickets but rather to alert ordinary students to what is happening at our universities”.
Although no one has been identified personally as distributing material, flyers have been found on the outskirts of campus. Student, Patrick Roso, stating he found a flyer “outside the underpass tunnel, on the way up to college. Was a few more scattered about but someone was in the middle of cleaning ‘em up”.
Guild President, Conrad Hogg, made a final statement of behalf of the Guild. “Everyone deserves to feel safe at university and get home every night free from assault and harassment. The Guild is committed to the fight to end rape on campus and will continue to work with and keep pressure on the university to make our campuses safer, especially for women and non-binary students, and to ensure survivors are believed, taken seriously, and supported.”
More to come.
Words by Sophie Minissale