On Tuesday, April 12, sororities on campus gathered at the HPER Center to listen to a speech by Mitch Crane, a former judge and lawyer who frequently delivers speeches for college athletes and students involved in fraternity and sorority life on university campuses.
But instead of feeling uplifted by Crane’s speech – much of which centered on sexual assault – some female students in the audience felt put down and blamed by his comments.
Acclaimed by various administrators of student activities and students from schools like Marietta College and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Crane was invited by sorority Gamma Phi Beta to address the Greek community on risk management and hazing, according to the sorority’s Instagram page. The speaker was invited per recommendation from their international sorority.
Many students present at the event, however, felt offended by the keynote remarks offered by Crane. Senior Maddy Kelly left the speech early feeling “uncomfortable and angry,” she said, after Crane offered an exemplary story about a young woman, pressured to drink by her sorority sisters at a fraternity party and later raped by a male present at the event.
“He began discussing who was at fault in this situation, and he said it was her sorority sisters because they pressured her to get drunk and didn’t watch her close enough to prevent the rape from happening,” Kelly said.
“The problem with talking about sexual assault is that we tend to treat the ‘one in four’ statistic as something abstract that doesn’t apply to the people we know, but it does,” junior Chloe Burchett said. “So many of the women in that audience had already been sexually assaulted, and because there’s often so much trauma associated with it, you have to treat the issue with respect and empathy.”
Carol Nickoson, director of fraternity and sorority life, quickly responded to the students’ concerns, sending an email on April 13 expressing both the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life and the entire division of Student Development’s “deepest disappointment regarding the content shared by invited speaker Mitch Crane,” Nickoson wrote. “We were disheartened by Mr. Crane’s keynote remarks . . . Attendance at the program was mandatory for 60 percent of each Panhellenic Chapter, as per the majority vote of sorority chapters.”
After the email was released, some students felt the language “placed blame on the sorority that sponsored the event,” Nickoson said, which was “not the intention of the message,” she said.
“I shared support resources for students to utilize in the email and during the chapter presidents roundtable meeting. I also met with Gamma Phi Beta representatives to determine next steps,” she added.
After such complaints had been received by Crane on April 21, the speaker explained that he had been contracted to give his “A Tort is Not a Cake” program. This program “instructs in individual and organizational liability,” Crane said.
“I understood the audience would be men and women. When I arrived, there were no men, and I switched my opening story to a sexual assault case that occurred in another state,” Crane said, in reference to the same example story Kelly mentioned previously.
“I then explained liability law and how organizations were liable for the known or foreseeable consequences of their acts and the duty they owe to their guests and members,” Crane said. “I asked the audience who was legally responsible, and the answers were the fraternity because they served a minor and did not protect her, and the sorority because they made her go, which is hazing.”
After hearing feedback from the speech on April 21, Crane said, “I wish I had received feedback right away so I could have dealt with it . . . Whatever my intentions, I am sorry for how people reacted. I must take responsibility for that – not my host or the institution.”
In response to the speaking engagement itself, Maureen Walker, director of marketing and communications for Gamma Phi Beta International Sorority, released the following statement: “We were disappointed the agreed upon topic veered off course, and sincerely apologize for any distress caused. It was our goal to provide an educational session for our community – with our community . . .”
CAMPUSSPEAK, the organization representing Crane, reinforced their mission to “provide transformative learning experiences that educate and inspire college students” in their following statement written by CEO Luke Davis that read, “this program fell short of our high expectations.”