‘Sexist’ Poster Upsets Advocates; Its Meaning Debated at Seminar

Members of Forward Advocates, a North Dakota State faculty group, called a Bison Catholic-sponsored poster “sexist” on Tuesday.

The group brought attention to the poster advertising a seminar titled “Chicks, Liquor & Drugs: God’s Calling Me – Why Should I Answer?”

Anne Denton, a computer science associate professor, brought up the poster’s wording at the “Science, Religion and Lunch” seminar.

She and other opponents attested to the poster’s use of “chicks,” which they said objectifies and dehumanizes women.

Tara Splonskowski, a staff associate at St. Paul’s Newman Center, countered the argument. She said the title is used and was created by speaker John Leyendecker, who travels around the country speaking.

She said it is meant to focus on his conversion from his past “prodigal” lifestyle.

“This talk is about John Leyendecker,” Splonskowski said. “The idea of the title is to portray what his attitude was like as a student prior to his conversion.”

The title was shortened by Bison Catholic to fit on posters.

The original title reads: “Chicks, Liquor, Drugs: God is Calling, But I’m Not Answering Cuz (sic) I Think He’s a Telemarketer.”

The subsequent debate lasted over 30 minutes.

Heated argument

Raised voices and emotions were noticeable during points of discussion.

Moderator Davis Cope warned attendants they needed to speak in turn.

“Everyone is welcome to participate,” Cope said, stressing it needed to be done, “in order.”

The loudest outburst of debate occurred as the group discussed how to define “chicks,” which lead to definitions ranging from woman objectification, the bird and the country band the Dixie Chicks.

One man said he was troubled most by Leyendecker’s continued use of “chicks,” even after his conversion.

“That is offensive to me,” he said, “… I may be taking that wrong — ”

“ — You are,” objected The Rev. James Cheney. He serves as the Newman Center’s priest.

Splonskowski responded, “As a woman, I agree with you; I’d no sooner want to be called a chick then called hot.”

Another audience member said he thought, after watching the video, that the title “sex, liquor and drugs” would be less offensive.

Cheney asked if it would be.

“When you look at 85 percent of young adults who come out of the high school experience and have a weekly porn habit?” he asked, “That they view women and objectify them?”

Woman Activist Organization advisor Dena Wyum asked Cheney and the poster defenders to consider the defensive feelings they felt at the seminar to understand how her organization feels.

“We often have to defend the presentations and things we do, so keep that in mind when you see other things that are happening on campus that maybe Bison Catholic disagrees with,” Wyum said. “And it’s not fun to be put in that position of constantly having to defend (yourselves).”

Poster’s problem

Forward Advocates is composed of NDSU male faculty members who “identify themselves as allies of faculty women,” the group’s NDSU webpage said.

In separate posters placed next to the Leyendecker posters, Forward Advocates wrote a rebuttal to Leyendecker’s poster.

Denton, who said she is involved in Forward Advocates, asked questions directed at John Helgeland regarding the tone of the title.

Helgeland, who has taught religious studies at NDSU for 38 years, led the seminar.

While he did not offer a definitive opinion on the poster, Helgeland said differing cultures have differing views on women equality.

“(Some) cultures do tend to, you know, support some people that have locker-room ideas about what to do with women and so forth,” Helgeland said, “although I probably better stop there because I am going to get in trouble.”

Denton said good intentions or not, the respect for women is lost.

“The point of my (initial) question is really that there is almost no way how somebody can walk away from this presentation and actually feel that they’ve been taught respect for women,” she said.

An audience member said he thought “the word ‘chicks’ very concisely and very unprofanely (sic) states a very profane term.”

He continued, “I used to use the word ‘chicks’ all the time, and there ain’t no way I’d use it today.”

In defense

Bison Catholic, a student-run organization, is hosting Leyendecker. He is speaking Wednesday and, in a separate presentation, Thursday.

Splonskowski reiterated that the title is a comment on Leyendecker’s conversion, not sexist undertones.

“It’s to show God is calling him away from this attitude,” she said.

“It’s a story about a conversion,” Cheney added. “Of course we agree” with respecting people.

“This is a story about somebody who discovered God, and God’s ability to change his life though his conversion experience,” he said, “so that he no longer viewed that person as an ‘it’ but a ‘thou.’”

As for her personal feelings toward the title, Splonskowski said, “It maybe wasn’t done in the best way,” and she “understands how it could be taken the wrong way.”

But, she continued, Leyendecker’s attitude toward women has changed “drastically.”

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