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Amid student protest, Dan Harmon lecture canceled due to ‘scheduling conflict’

<p>Students marched from the Seal to Roudebush Hall in protest of Dan Harmon&#x27;s canceled lecture.</p>

Students marched from the Seal to Roudebush Hall in protest of Dan Harmon's canceled lecture.

In a Friday, April 9 statement on its Instagram page, Miami University’s Lecture Series announced it canceled its event featuring Dan Harmon scheduled for Monday, April 12, amid controversy due to Harmon’s past sexual misconduct.

The post states the event was canceled due to “an unforeseen conflict in Mr. Harmon’s schedule.”

Miami’s Sexual Assault Survivor Support (SASS) organization condemned the decision to bring Harmon to campus via an Instagram statement because he previously made videos depicting rape and was accused of – and publicly admitted to – sexual harassment of a former colleague.

“While [Harmon] may hold value as a speaker in his craft, we cannot separate a speaker’s content from their reputation as an individual,” the statement reads.

SASS held a protest Monday, April 12, the intended day of Harmon’s lecture, which started at the Seal and included a march to Roudebush Hall.

In an interview conducted before the lecture’s cancelation was announced, Josie Carter, president of SASS, said the protest was against both Harmon’s planned appearance and Miami’s lack of response to sexual assault.

“Even though we’re protesting Dan Harmon being selected by the Lecture Series and them paying him,” Carter said, “we’re really protesting the rape culture that’s prevalent here, because it’s no secret that Miami has a problem with sexual assault.”

Carter said the student body has largely supported SASS by sharing its posts and reacting favorably to them, but the organization has also faced backlash from some.

“I’ve had one person say to me that if I do this [protest], men won’t want to join SASS,” Carter said. “I’ve also had a few people say, ‘What’s the big deal? He’s a comedian. He’s funny. He’s successful.’ That’s very frustrating because those attitudes contribute to the attitudes we have here about rape.”

Zoe Douglas, president of Miami’s Diversity Affairs Council (DAC), helped Carter plan the protest. She said they also intended to highlight the lack of respect shown to student voices by staff members.

“It's not necessarily just an issue of student voices in the room, but student voices being respected, valued and being heard, not being taken advantage of, and just the way that's being navigated at the school right now,” Douglas said.

Evan Gates, a first-year business economics major who attended the protest, said he hoped the protest would encourage members of the Lecture Series Committee to take more responsibility for the incident.

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“[The committee] is taking the easy way out by saying there was a scheduling conflict instead of owning up to what they said was wrong, because they might be trying to avoid a lawsuit,” Gates said. “I'm not gonna pretend to know why they chose to bring the speaker in the first place when they knew about a lot of this back in January, but they have the opportunity to say, ‘We're not going to do this again in the future.’”

Jillian Gruber, a first-year psychology and pre-medical studies double major, also attended the protest and said she hopes Miami will take more concrete steps to prevent sexual assault in the future.

“They really need to prove their dedication to supporting survivors, and they really have not done that at all,” Gruber said. “I would really like to see them actually take steps to doing that.”

Protestors made signs and chanted, “One, two, three, four, we won’t take it anymore; five, six, seven, eight, stop the violence, stop the hate.”

A few protestors also shared their feelings in front of the group.

“Miami – it is not hard to not hire predators,” one protestor said. “We as students are here to tell you to do better. This is not something new that we have to hold you accountable for, this is something that we shouldn’t have to hold you accountable for.”

Photo by Lexi Whitehead | The Miami Student

Students make signs in preparation for SASS' protest of Dan Harmon's lecture.

Lauren Doepke, another member of SASS, said she was happy the lecture was canceled, but that one cancelation would not solve the deeper issues on Miami’s campus. 

“While we are happy that Dan Harmon will no longer be speaking, there is a bigger issue to address here,” Doepke wrote in an email to The Miami Student. “This is not the first time that the Lecture Series Committee has hired a speaker who has torn down identities through past actions or harmful ideologies. SASS supports and believes in diversity of thought, but not when it comes at the cost of any individual's personal safety or mental health.”

Douglas, a former member of the Lecture Series Committee, was one of the first students who objected to Harmon being invited to campus. She said she was met with hostility from several members of the committee when she raised concerns about Harmon’s past actions while the committee was discussing him as a potential lecturer.

“When I brought [my concerns] to the committee, nobody wanted to talk about it,” Douglas said. “They said, ‘That was a long time ago; things were different,’ and this was coming from adults.”

Douglas said many members of the committee continued to defend Harmon’s actions, and all of the members except her and one other student were in favor of bringing him to campus. 

“They could have chosen anyone – there isn’t much guiding the Lecture Series, and they have a big enough budget that they could have gotten someone else,” Douglas said. “But they kept saying, ‘No, we don’t have time; we don’t have to talk about this, no one will know.’”

Douglas eventually resigned from the committee in response to the pushback she received. 

Another student member of the lecture committee bringing Harmon to campus, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed frustration about Miami’s silence about the event and said it was indicative of larger issues within the administration.

The member also said they weren’t sure if the reason given for canceling the event was accurate, as they decided not to participate in planning for Harmon’s event due to their objections to bringing him to campus.

“I'm not sure if the reason that was given out was true or not – I’m giving [the committee] the benefit of the doubt because I know them,” they said, “but I think, as everybody can probably fathom, there might have been more to the situation that we don’t know about.”

John Tchernev, assistant professor of strategic communications and faculty member of the lecture series committee, was supposed to moderate Harmon's lecture. He said the committee had a series of thoughtful discussions about the decision to bring Harmon to campus.

“We took a vote [on whether to bring Harmon to campus] – it was contentious,” Tchernev said. “We debated it for about two hours. Some people were not comfortable with it; some people felt like he still had a right to talk.”

Though Tchernev said he had no issues with the students protesting Harmon’s lecture, he said he was disappointed with how ugly some of the dialogue surrounding the event became.

“Unfortunately, the level of discourse really deteriorated to the point where it was a lot of name calling and a lot of real negativity,” Tchernev said. “I think a lot of people did have some thoughtful reactions to it or did intellectually think about the issue, but I think other people didn't and had knee-jerk reactions, and they tended to be, unfortunately, the most vocal in protesting this.”

Tchernev said the committee’s decision to bring Harmon to speak did not reflect a dismissiveness toward his past actions.

“None of us are in favor of rape. I don't think that should need to be said – we all take it very seriously,” Tchernev said. “What we were hoping for was that the campus community could have a reasonable and thought-provoking discussion about whether making a tasteless joke in the past should disqualify someone from being a public figure indefinitely, or whether there is room for forgiveness.

In an official statement, DAC expressed relief about the event’s cancelation but stated it still felt members of the committee needed to be held accountable.

“Diversity Affairs Council is disappointed that this took place about 72 hours before the

event was to occur,” the statement read. “Additionally, committee members are still failing to take responsibility. We do not stand by this blatant disregard for survivors [of sexual and interpersonal violence].”

Additional reporting by Asst. Magazine Editors Hannah Horsington and Claire Lordan and Asst. Campus & Community Editors Cosette Gunter, Sean Scott and Lexi Whitehead.