Lack of Integrity at Penn State over Riley Gaines Disinvite Runs Deep
Updated: 10/11/2023 08:38 AM EDT
Last month, Neeli Bendapudi, president of Pennsylvania State University, addressed the student body in a public video on free speech. “Without the First Amendment,” she said, “your access to information would be threatened.” She detailed how the university is “bound by the First Amendment,” which allows “bigots” to occasionally speak on campus. Nonetheless, she made it very clear: “[R]estricting the speech of one group or individual jeopardizes everyone’s rights.” Four weeks later, she canceled an on-campus event featuring Riley Gaines. So much for free speech.
Gaines is often referred to as a “bigoted,” “anti-trans” activist. In reality, she is a former NCAA All-American swimmer who has faced the trauma of competing against biological men in women’s competitions and changing in front of biological men in women’s locker rooms. Now, as an outspoken advocate for girls’ sports, she is the target of both tremendous support and vehement hate.
As part of her fight, Gaines pronounced October 10 as “Real Women’s Day,” in which the Roman numerals (X/X) are the chromosomes of biological women. She was scheduled to speak at Penn State regarding “Real Women’s Day,” but the event was abruptly canceled. Apparently, President Bendapudi forgot saying, “Restricting the speech of one … individual jeopardizes everyone’s rights.” Surely it just slipped her mind.
That said, Penn State doesn’t have the best track record on integrity. The infamous Penn State sexual abuse scandal, involving the university’s former defensive coordinator and football coach Jerry Sandusky, is a profound example. Over a period of approximately 15 years, Sandusky was responsible for the repeated sexual abuse of a total of 10 young boys. Reportedly, even after learning of some of Sandusky’s criminal acts, Penn State officials failed to notify law enforcement. In 2012, Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse and sentenced 30 to 60 years in state prison.
Many of these incidents occurred on campus. Sandusky had full access to campus facilities, and multiple witnesses reported on his sexual misconduct between 2000-2007 — reports that were not shared with law enforcement. In fact, it wasn’t until 2008, after several years of known sexual abuse, that law enforcement became aware and began a serious investigation. On June 12, 2012, former FBI Director Louis Freeh announced the findings, which accused “leaders at Penn State of showing ‘total and consistent disregard’ for child sex abuse victims, while covering up the attacks of a longtime sexual predator.”
That year, Penn State was punished by the NCAA, sued by victims of Sandusky’s sexual abuse, and faced eight separate charges from The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania against the former president and vice president of the university. In total, the scandal cost Penn State approximately $237 million dollars. Lawsuits related to Penn State’s handling of the misconduct have occurred as recently as January of 2023.
Penn State’s history of mishandling and covering up abuses reveals a much deeper problem in the university — a problem rooted in the institution’s leadership. Bendapudi was right to acknowledge that even “bigots” have the right to speak freely. But a part of her video not highlighted previously is how, for Bendapudi, “[R]ejecting hate-filled speech is the responsibility of everyone.” She further encouraged the students under her leadership to speak out against the “hateful” speakers that come to Penn State, saying, “[I]f you wish to exercise your free speech rights by protesting the speaker, we support you in this action.”
Joseph Backholm, senior fellow for Biblical Worldview and Strategic Engagement at Family Research Council, commented to The Washington Stand, “Of course, it is hypocritical to extol the value of free speech and then deny people the opportunity to speak.” However, Backholm added, “Concerns about hypocrisy are exclusively reserved for people who care about the truth,” and progressives are generally not concerned about the truth. As Backholm discussed, Bendapudi is not concerned with the truth, because her feelings make her feel her words are true. “It feels good to her to support ‘free speech’ and ban ‘hate speech,”’ he said.
After Penn State pulled the plug on her event, Gaines posted on X, “No way [the] President of Penn State makes a whole video explaining why public institutions are legally obligated to let ‘bigots’ apparently like me on campus to speak then proceeds to CANCEL my speech.” She continued, “Have it your way. See ya tomorrow with a soap box and megaphone, Penn State!”
I hope Gaines does decide to show up. In doing so, Penn State will have an opportunity to clarify what it is they really mean when they claim everyone has the right to free speech.
**Editor's note: Gaines did make an appearance at Penn State on Tuesday. During the event, two individuals were arrested for vandalizing a table.
Sarah Holliday is a reporter at The Washington Stand.