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Two commencement speakers have been close to controversy in 2014

December 4, 2014
<p>Teresa Sullivan addresses the Virginia Senate Finance Committee on April 1, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia. Photo Credit: Marshall Bronfin</p>

Teresa Sullivan addresses the Virginia Senate Finance Committee on April 1, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia. Photo Credit: Marshall Bronfin

Photo by Marshall Bronfin | The State News

Two of the speakers — University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist George Will — have found themselves in the middle of the sexual assault issue in 2014. The third speaker is filmmaker Michael Moore, a documentarian known for his outspoken, left-wing views.

Will, a writer for the Washington Post whose columns are syndicated in newspapers across the country, penned a deeply divisive piece in June which claimed the “supposed campus epidemic of rape” is being pushed by progressivism in America, and has made “victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges.”

He also writes that “the 20 percent assault rate is preposterous,” referring to the Center for Disease Control’s study which asserts nearly one in five women will experience sexual assault at some point in their life.

To Emily Kollaritsch, who is a rape survivor and social relations and policy senior at MSU, the decision to allow Will to speak at graduation is “despicable.”

“It is honestly despicable and disgusting,” she said. “But it’s kind of not surprising to me that they’d invite him, because the university title IX coordinator and the administration did not support me or any survivors whom I have talked to on this campus.”

MSU spokesperson Jason Cody said the university’s decision to have Will speak at next Saturday’s 10 a.m. graduation was “due to his career as a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist,” and is “not a recognition to any individual viewpoint that he holds.”

“Our main goal is to have a focus on individuals who have made an impact on the world and are interesting to students,” Cody said.

But Kollaritsch said the crowd will be full of people with no interest in hearing from Will.

“He’s going to be talking to a bunch of people there who have gone through hell having been raped, sexually assaulted and abused, which is reiterating the fact that he disbelieves him,” she said. “It’s so disheartening that MSU would allow him to speak at our campus.”

Preceding Will will be Friday’s graduation speaker, Sullivan. Sullivan, an MSU alumna, has found herself in the news recently after a Rolling Stone article on Nov. 19  told the story of alleged rapes at the university’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house and subsequent failure from the school to pursue justice.

The story has attracted national attention and put UVA under an intense media spotlight, and Sullivan has been left to answer many of the questions.

Rebecca Lim, editor-in-chief for the UVA student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, said student emotions have been “mixed” about Sullivan’s handling of the sexual assault scandal.

“People were dissatisfied with her response from the outset,” Lim said. “But then she made a more sincere effort to show that she’s really serious about those things and met with student leaders and other administrators, giving speeches and talks about the issue.”

Since taking action to help combat the sexual assault issue on UVA’s campus, Lim said her reputation has gotten a boost.

“Her response on campus has been improving,” Lim said. “Nobody is really pointing fingers at her or blaming her.”

Sullivan will address students receiving advanced degrees at 3:30 p.m. Dec. 12 at Breslin Center and will receive an honorary doctorate of law. Will speaks Saturday morning and will receive an honorary doctorate of humanities.

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