Editors' Note: Louisa Hill is a senior at Agnes Scott College where she studies theatre, French, and women's studies. She last guest blogged on The Bilerico Project in December, when she informed us of the filming of Road Trip II: Beer Pong on her campus.
Thank you for the overwhelming response to my December guest post on Bilerico Project about the sexist, racist, and homophobic film produced on Agnes Scott's campus. I am excited to discuss the developments on campus in response to the post and the protests of many students, alumnae, and concerned supporters. To catch everyone up, this past November, the college administration gave permission for Road Trip II: Beer Pong to film on campus. The filming involved, among other offensive acts, the recruitment of students in the cafeteria for their derisive "lesbians until graduation" scene.
Propelled by an overwhelming feeling that student voices weren't heard and the issue was glossed over by the administration, I published an opinion piece in Atlanta's LGBTQ newspaper Southern Voice. While this article caught the attention (and Google Alerts) of several people, including the Livejournal of Agnes Scott alums, the article stayed fairly contained and, unlike other student publications, was not announced to the ASC community until much later, after accusations of censorship.
A week after the Southern Voice article was published, the folks at Bilerico published a longer version of my article (thanks to the networking skills of my friend Caro), and my printed criticism turned into internet wildfire.
Post Sparks Boycott and Information Campaign
Several blogs such as Bitch and Daily Kos picked it up and the article spread through Facebook profiles and wall posts. Heated online and in-person discussions emerged about what it means to be an Agnes Scott student and how college projects should correlate to the stated college values. Students, faculty, staff, and alums were pissed. Even people from outside the Agnes Scott community were shocked to find out that this had happened at the seat of women's empowerment. Others who had graduated years ago felt violated that their beloved alma mater was selling itself out for decidedly homophobic, misogynist, and racist exploits.
When one alumna found out about the film, she organized a boycott of alumnae's donations to the school until action was taken to prevent something like this from happening again. As she wrote: "Don't apply, don't visit, don't volunteer, don't donate" because "a mass movement that impacts them financially may be the only way to get a message across." In response to the platform raised through Facebook awareness and activism, letters flooded the Agnes Scott administrative offices expressing anger and disappointment at the desecration of the college's mission and values.
This response of phone calls, discussions, letters, and, especially, the withholding of funds prompted the administration to address the issue more substantially than the first time.
The Administration Responds
On the second to last day of exams, President Kiss emailed the Agnes Scott community acknowledging the widespread discontent. In her email she provided a link to my article as an example of the "hard-hitting" criticism to which the administration had been subjected. Many students felt that the timing of this email (two weeks after the article had been published) was a conscious political choice to keep this issue out of the limelight, since most students and faculty had vacated campus and were exhausted from exams.
In her letter, she addressed the administration's misjudgment and ways to make future decisions and the revisions to the film shoot policies and practices, including a Noah's Arc-like film shoot advisory committee of two students (a member of Student Senate and an on-campus Resident Director), two faculty members, and two staff members "focused on bringing additional voices and perspectives into the process [to] help us do a better job evaluating future film projects."
This email assuaged the tempers of many upset students and alums because President Kiss both recognized the mistake and, while glossing over the occurrence with an upbeat spin, alluded to ways in which to make the film-decision process more democratic. In her email, she explained that part of the revised plan of action will involve the following components:
- The script and any promotional materials will be reviewed by the Film Shoot Advisory Committee.
- The committee will make a recommendation to the college president regarding the appropriateness of the film.
- The president, in consultation with the Executive Council, makes a final decision on whether or not the college will agree to the film shoot taking into consideration multiple factors, including the recommendation of the Film Shoot Advisory Committee, anticipated revenue and potential publicity.
- If a film is selected, the administration will review the campus calendar and consult with student life staff to establish a film shoot schedule that minimizes disruption to campus activities and the college's educational mission.
- At least one educational opportunity will be included in every film contract. These opportunities might include shadowing experiences for students interested in theatre or film, coordinated through the theatre department, or class visits or workshops for interested students led by members of the production team.
The proposed plan is exciting, but some members of the Agnes Scott community remain justifiably disillusioned. One professor doubted how much power the committee will have, saying that since she's been here situations like this arise all of the time, citing the Playboy recruiters that were here in the 90s for their "Women from Women's Colleges" issue. Another professor, while more optimistic, iterated the fact that the president and administration have the ultimate word even if this committee unanimously vetoes a film. Both are right that this new policy leaves a major loophole and the administration retains ultimate authority to decide film contracts.
Even so, these actions offer some hope that the administration will legitimately act upon and change policies in response to the community protests against this violation of our dignity. Certainly, I hope future students will hold them accountable and raise their voices if a decision violates the school's mission.
Some Concerns Remain
Although this committee promises to represent diverse perspectives, many in the queer community do not appreciate the lack of acknowledgment about how this film specifically exploited their identities and doubt whether Agnes Scott will be a safe community for them. In fact, President Kiss never explicitly apologized for how accommodating Beer Pong carried deeply wounding implications for race, gender, sexuality, and intellectual inquiry on Agnes Scott's campus.
Furthermore, to what extent will the film committee actually represent a diverse perspective? Members of the Senate and the Student Government Association question why students do not hold a larger part in the film-approval process. The two members of the committee are not elected by a popular vote, but are instead appointed by administration staff and the ten-person SGA leadership board, which closes its meetings to the student body.
Needless to say, this conflict continues to spark conversation on and off campus. After the article was published, some people expressed relief at choosing not to come to Agnes Scott because of what the movie may represent about the school.
Looking to the Future
While I agree that the previous films were a grievous error, I hope that people will not associate Agnes Scott only with this administrative decision and recognize how professors and students shape the Agnes Scott that many call home. As one student expressed: "I hate that people are saying they're glad they didn't come here because of this--Agnes Scott has really changed my life and I think it's amazing that students rose up and our voices were heard." I agree.
I'm grateful for the community of professors and peers at my college that prioritize critical thinking and social analysis, the ones who have taught and encouraged me to question, communicate, and protest, the ones who have changed my way of thinking. These are the classes that make Agnes Scott what it is, the moments that define my Agnes Scott education. If not for these classes, there would not have even been backlash to show that this sort of administrative misjudgment is not the norm.
In the future, I hope there will be transparency of administrative decisions, issues, and events on campus. I also hope that, if this sort of issue ever arises again, that there will be open lines of communication between current students and alumnae to facilitate effective protests (As one alumna told me, "They don't write about this in the alumnae magazine."). I'm surprised at the number of people who have reached out to thank me for giving a voice to this situation.
I want to encourage my peers that this should not be an isolated event. Questioning, and perhaps opposing, administrative decisions is not a mark of disloyalty, but a mark of integrity and commitment. I exhort future students to take advantage of blogs to spread news about what's going on campus so that we can hold our administration accountable to our mission statement and what we believe our school is and should be. Let's start a dialogue and make some noise. After all, it's what our teachers and even our president would want.