Center Denies Claims of Bullying on Ham
Students gather in the Women’s Research Center and BGLTQ+ Student Center in Thatcher Hall on Thursday, Feb. 8 following meetings regarding the events surrounding the cancelled Ken Ham event on campus. (Cara Johnson/The Vista)
Editor’s Note: This is part two in a three-part series on the controversy associated with Ken Ham’s cancelled invitation to speak at the University of Central Oklahoma.
Following the cancellation of a scheduled talk by Answers in Genesis founder Ken Ham, the University of Central Oklahoma’s Women’s Research Center and BGLTQ+ Student Center (the Center) has denied claims that it pressured the UCO Student Association into cancelling the event.
Initial claims by AiG identified objections by a campus LGBT group as having been the university’s reason in cancelling Ham’s visit to campus. UCOSA President Stockton Duvall later identified the organization as the Center and claimed that its members attempted to bully him into cancelling the event.
“There was a passionate discussion, but there was nothing at all that was even close to bullying,” said Center Director Lindsey Churchill. “I see it as student constituents asking their representative what’s going on.”
Ham was originally scheduled to speak as part of UCOSA’s speaker series for the 2017-2018 academic year. The offer was rescinded earlier this month after the Center expressed concerns on using student activity fees to pay for Ham’s talk in consideration of his previous statements on women and members of the LGBTQ community.
“There are too many students who are on this campus who are are already scared, who are part of the LGBT community. This is supposed to be a safe place for them, and to bring someone who is against them on campus, that’s an embarrassment to this campus,” said Mickayla Fisher, the Center’s reproductive justice coordinator.
Ham, who founded the fundamentalist Christian organization AiG in 1994, has generated controversy for his tweets denouncing homosexuality as a sin and claiming the acceptance of same-sex marriage and transgender identities represents a rejection of the Bible.
He has also been the center of controversy over his promotion of Young Earth Creationism, a viewpoint that contends the Earth is approximately 6,000 years old and that the biblical account of Genesis is a scientifically accurate description of how life began.
“The issue with this particular instance is that this was a religious organization who wanted a religious speaker to come speak on our campus, claiming it was beneficial for students on an academic level,” said Elizabeth Slay, a student researcher at the Center.
Following national media coverage of the cancellation of Ham’s scheduled talk, Duvall released a statement explaining his decision to cancel the event and claimed that members of the campus community attempted to bully him on the matter.
While the Center asserted they had brought their concerns to UCOSA through an open dialogue on Ham’s engagement, Duvall claimed that the Center had attempted to “bully” him into cancelling the event during a meeting between himself and 12 representatives from the Center.
“There were eye rolls, there were people giving me looks, looking across the room and who said, ‘Can you believe he just said that,’ whenever I’m just trying to stay middle ground on this issue,” Duvall said. “And there were some people who got very emotional and I felt it.”
Members of the Center who attended the meeting agreed that there was emotion behind the exchange, but they denied Duvall’s claims that any bullying had taken place and released a statement through Facebook denouncing bullying.
In a statement expressing the university’s continued dedication to promoting free speech and a diversity of viewpoints on campus, UCO President Don Betz stated that the university was investigating Duvall’s claims.
“While any reports of bullying will be and are being investigated, it is important to state that reports that the LGBTQ community prevented Mr. Ham from being invited to campus are inaccurate and unfair to members of our campus community,” Betz said.