Some members of the Class of 2019 turned their backs to Baccalaureate speaker George Will *68, protesting his 2014 column on sexual assault.
Iris Samuels ’19

During the Baccalaureate address June 2, some students were listening in rapt attention. Others had turned their backs.

The Baccalaureate speaker, George Will *68, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who’s written a syndicated column for The Washington Post for more than 40 years. But some students took issue with his views on sexual misconduct on university campuses, pointing to a 2014 Post column in which he criticized an Obama-era policy that addressed what Will called “the supposed campus epidemic of rape.” Will faced student protests at Miami University and Michigan State University over the column later that year.

The Baccalaureate protest was one of several #MeToo-related statements over the weekend, including at the P-rade, continuing a focus that began with a nine-day protest in front of Nassau Hall in May. That ended with a University decision to authorize an external review of the Title IX process. at Princeton in May. The silent protest during Will’s speech was organized by the same coalition of students that organized the sit-in outside Nassau Hall.

After Will was introduced by University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83, more than 100 students stood up in protest, turned their backs, and remained standing until Will’s address was complete.

During his address, Will spoke about the virtue of praise, calling on students to use it as an antidote to anger. Will argued that “we live in a culture of contempt,” and said that “anger has become fun for many people.”

“In this age of rage, disparagement is the default setting for many Americans,” he said. Will criticized social media, saying it encourages “snarky expressions of disdain.”

Student organizers had used social media to call for the protest during Will’s speech, asking fellow students to turn their backs to express dissatisfaction with the platform given to Will’s views. Some students wore purple or adorned their graduation gowns with purple buttons that read “Listen & Act” in support of the Reform Title IX movement.

While Will acknowledged the protest taking place, he did not let it interfere with his remarks, which were applauded by parents who listened outside the University Chapel.  He concluded by thanking the Class of 2019 for the honor of speaking. “I want to thank all of its members, including those who helped if inadvertently to illustrate my point,” he said.

Speaking during the Class Day ceremony on the morning following Baccalaureate, class president Christopher Umanzor ’19 said he “was miffed” by Will’s address. “In my view, our class is the antithesis of such concerns,” Umanzor said. “We are empathetic and enterprising, and we don’t need the advice.” He added: “We represent the best this university has to offer,” receiving a standing ovation from the students on Cannon Green.