Scarpo speech did not consider CMU audience, diminished message

Credit: Patrick Gage Kelley/Publisher Credit: Patrick Gage Kelley/Publisher

Motivational speaker Brent Scarpo visited our campus Oct. 25 to give a speech titled “Last Call” to the Greek community. Instead of motivation, Scarpo gave Carnegie Mellon Greeks derogatory, sexist, and racist skits. Although he allegedly had no harmful intent, Scarpo crossed the line between being relatable and being offensive.

The Greek Life staff asked Scarpo to speak to the Greek community about the seriousness of alcohol, and to inform students on how to avoid making a “last call” to a parent or friend due to an alcohol-related death. Yet during his speech, Scarpo performed offensive impersonations of African-Americans and sorority women in an attempt to get a few laughs. He also made light of serious issues, such as drunk driving, on which he was supposed to be educating the audience.

At one point in his talk, he asked students to raise their hands if they had ever driven drunk. Although a few students raised their hands, Scarpo nonetheless asked for everyone to be “honest” and egged on the audience, promising he “wouldn’t judge anyone.”

Taking such serious subject matter lightly and being oblivious to the crowd’s discomfort did nothing but detract from Scarpo’s credibility as a speaker.

As any speaker knows, being familiar with one’s audience is essential. Scarpo seemed to have missed that memo. He was unfamiliar with what the Carnegie Mellon community, or its Greek community, is like. We have a greater variety of demographics and personalities than many other schools Scarpo has visited.

But even though our community has a large number of ethnicities, nationalities, and religions that make us accepting of and ready to defend diversity; the skits and quips Scarpo used portrayed stereotypes that do not apply to Carnegie Mellon, and should not be applied to any university.

The Greek community did not sweep Scarpo’s speech under the rug, however. Immediately after the speech and during the following days, students gave an outpouring of criticism and feedback. An open forum was held last Tuesday to continue the conversation and allow students to air out any remaining concerns.

We commend the Greek community for its immediate and responsible reaction to the speech. The feedback and the open forum allowed the members of the community to channel their justifiable outrage into a positive outcome.