Forum held on offensive speaker
Brent Scarpo, a motivational speaker, allegedly made derogatory and false remarks when talking to the Greek community about alcohol poisoning and alcohol education. In reaction to the widespread controversy over his talk, the Greek Life staff held an open forum for students to voice their concerns last Tuesday night at 9 p.m.
During Scarpo’s visit to Carnegie Mellon on Tuesday, Oct. 25, he performed multiple skits that many students in the audience found offensive.
At Tuesday’s forum, participants said they felt he made both racist and sexist remarks, such as “that’s what she said” jokes. Scarpo also conveyed false information about Carnegie Mellon’s amnesty policy, according to junior English major Aurelia Henderson, at which point students raised their hands and stood up to correct him.
Lucas Christain, the associate director of Student Life for Greek houses, chaired last Tuesday’s forum to address Scarpo’s talk, along with Coordinators of Fraternity and Sorority Life Monica McGee, Ariel Weaver, and Aaron George.
“We didn’t get what we expected that night,” Christain said to the audience of about a dozen Greek members when the meeting began. The open forum was designed to “clarify the approaches we took,” he explained. He also emphasized that the forum was not a place for blame; it was an opportunity to voice concerns and to learn from the incident. “We wanted to have an open forum after Scarpo.... We heard a lot of feedback from students, and the folks up here share a lot of those concerns,” Christain said, motioning to the meeting chairs.
Christain said that he was confident that Scarpo was an aberration in what is normally a smooth process. Typically, speakers brought in for the Greek community are taken out to dinner beforehand to get a better sense of who they are. However, with Scarpo, this could not be done because of certain time constraints.
“People had seen him before,” McGee said in explaining why Scarpo was originally chosen as a speaker for the Greek community. “Scarpo is a speaker endorsed by major Greek associations that our fraternities and sororities are a part of.” McGee said that the Greek Life staff had gotten a lot of feedback from the Greek community, both immediately after the show and in the days following.
Christain stressed that Scarpo’s speech was a learning experience for everyone, especially the Greek Life staff. He explained his reaction as he listened to Scarpo talk. “This has to turn a corner.... I did that for 45 minutes in my head.”
The other staff members agreed, and said that they wished they had stepped in. Weaver, Christain, George, and McGee all expressed the need for a contingency plan so as to better handle future challenging situations.
Students offered possible solutions to avoid similar mistakes. Cora Goldston, a junior social and decision sciences major and member of Alpha Chi Omega, said, “We should talk to the speakers beforehand, so they get a better idea of what to expect in our community.”
Clare Graziano, a senior drama major and member of Delta Delta Delta, suggested creating a hand symbol for whether students were comfortable or not. During Scarpo’s skits, he had asked for student volunteers. Once the skits became derogatory, those on stage appeared uncomfortable, but could not easily make an exit or leave. “That was a big issue for me,” she said. “Feeling how uncomfortable they were [on stage].”
Near the end of the discussion, McGee added that she and the other Greek Life staff voiced their and students’ concerns directly to Scarpo. She said that he was sorry for what happened. “[We] gave him a critique to help him change the program in the future,” she said. McGee also encouraged sorority and fraternity members to utilize their councils and bring their concerns to them to enact better workshops.
Many at the forum emphasized the need for an ongoing conversation about the incident; multiple students in the audience said they wanted to continue to discuss improvements and solutions to unexpected, and controversial, situations. “We are going to continue to encourage students’ talking,” Christain said.
Weaver agreed and added, “[We] appreciate the people who did come to this.... It’s the only way to move forward as a community.”