At the end of last semester, the SIUE faculty-staff list-serv was filled with a flurry of emails about “Grills Gone Wild,” the outdoor cafe-grill on campus. The discussion was initiated by a staff member who acknowledged his discomfort with the name, and many of the emails that responded to his were written by members of the campus community who explained that they too were uncomfortable but had not spoken up, lest they not be taken seriously. In this blog post, Prof. Trish Oberweis considers the name of the grill, and she also writes about the debate that ensued and a more general reluctance to engage in topics that might be perceived as falling under the umbrella of “political correctness.” Her essay appeared in a shorter form in The Chronicle of Higher Education (a big deal!) which you can view, along with the comments–some respectful, some not–here. We are happy to print the essay in full on our blog.
Recently, a series of discussions took place at my University centering on the name of a campus food stand, called “Grills Gone Wild.” The name, of course, is a play on words related to the name of the series of videos in which young, frequently intoxicated women bared their breasts or engaged in other lewd behavior for the camera. The producer has been sued a number of times, including multiple lawsuits related to subjects’ lack of consent, and the brand is now bankrupt. As you might imagine, some on the campus did not approve.
A member of the campus community overheard some students expressing their irritation about the name. Their conversation prompted this colleague to publicly raise the students’ concern on an email thread. The email, in turn, generated additional discussions. Although the grill’s name was not particularly new, public debate about it was. You can already imagine the two sets of responses lining up to publicly and privately roll their eyes that we would even need to hold such discussion. On the one side were those complaining that the name is insensitive. This group presented rape statistics, noted the national attention turning to campus sexual assault (we’d just hosted the state Attorney General for a training event on our campus), and pointed out that half or more of the campus is comprised of women. On the other side were the voices saying that the off color name is funny and is not legally prohibited and, therefore, an acceptable choice. This second group decried the kowtowing to political correctness.
The University has a relevant policy of sorts; well, it’s really more of a pledge than a true policy. But the idea is to remind everyone who uses the campus to be civil and respectful. It’s called the “We Are One” promise. Students, staff, faculty and administrators were asked some years ago to sign this pledge. Early signers were even rewarded with a free t-shirt. Does the Grills Gone Wild moniker honor this pledge? Is it required to? The answer to both questions is “probably not.”
Surely, we can all agree that the name is legal. So is consuming gallons of soda and dozens of doughnuts. That doesn’t make it a wise choice. Despite the stupidity and self-defeat inherent in the doughnut diet, I am not legally prohibited from going for it. And how could I be? What kind of law could be crafted to require that I use common sense in my junk food consumption? Would we want to live in a society that legislates these things?
The same balancing act seems apropos to consider here; is a name that jokingly speaks of sexual objectification the wisest choice for a campus community with an alleged “We Are One” commitment? Is that the right way to promote safety—or a welcoming climate–for women in a University setting? Does it support young men fostering respectful relationships with women during this period of sexual development? When parents bring their students to visit our campus and decide if ours would be a good school for them, should we have parents stop for a bite at the Grills Gone Wild? What would that communicate to them? Still, what kind of law could (or should) be written to codify common sense? Would we want to live in a society that legislates these things?