The history of speakers and performers invited to headline events at colleges has been a heated topic of debate for years. UConn has seen its own share of these occurrences, including the Lucian Wintrich event that took place last year. More recently, there has been controversy surrounding the decision to invite Sean Kingston as a performer for this year’s UCONNIC festival.
At issue is not the content or quality of Mr. Kingston’s music, but instead the rape allegations he faced regarding a concert in 2010. A 19-year-old woman claimed she was gang-raped by Kingston, his bodyguard and a band member following a concert she attended. The woman claimed she drank and smoked marijuana before the incident and so was “obviously intoxicated” and “incapable of consent.” Kingston countered that the sex was consensual, and ended up settling the trial at the time in order to focus on his upcoming album release and tour.
As with many of these cases, it is difficult to know the truth of the matter. However, whether or not these allegations occurred is not the issue here. The issue is whether UConn organizations should invite people like Mr. Kingston, especially against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, the fact that it is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and with concern for similar situations many on campus may have experienced.
Those who have endured sexual assault may rightly feel angry or hurt that someone with Mr. Kingston’s background was invited. It could also make them feel that students aren’t taking this issue seriously enough. Something like this can also overshadow or take away from the event. What should be an event where students are enjoying themselves will now be marred with a certain degree of controversy.
This doesn’t just apply to this particular event. Any organization should give consideration to the history and context of an invitee’s appearance on campus. Whether it’s because of sexual assault allegations, past offensive remarks regarding race or religion or other issues people should consider how the appearance of an individual could be interpreted by members of the student body. This is not to say that we should be in the business of regulating content, or trying to find someone who will appease everyone (which is, generally speaking, impossible). However, it is always possible to find another performer or speaker without such a controversial history. We should do our best to hold those we invite to a certain standard, the same one we try and hold each other to every day.