Canadian-American author, blogger and feminist, Anita Sarkeesian, has cancelled an appearance at Utah State University after learning that the university security would be allowing attendees to bring concealed firearms to the event in spite of a anonymous threat sent to university officials that threatened “the deadliest school shooting in American history.”
Sarkeesian, creator of the popular Tropes vs. Women in video games web series, is no stranger to death threats and harassment from her work’s detractors, and even has a portion of her website dedicated to documenting some of her own constant derailment by members of the gaming community. The New York Times reported Sarkeesian had been sent images of herself being raped by various video game characters.
Sarkeesian was set to deliver a speech hosted by the Center for Women and Gender at USU Taggart Student Center Auditorium, even after USU officials received an anonymous threat to Sarkeesian and the event’s attendees, however she later posted on Twitter that she would be canceling her appearance “because police wouldn’t take steps to prevent concealed firearms at the event.” Sarkeesian later clarified in another Twitter post that she cancelled her appearance because she felt university security measures were insufficient.
According to Sarkeesian, she requested pat downs and metal detectors at the event, but the university was unable to comply due to Utah’s open carry laws, which state, “It is lawful to carry a firearm “capable of being concealed” in one’s home or place of business without a permit .”
The Standard-Examiner has released online what it says are are excerpts from the threat letter, in which the unknown author promised to carry out the “deadliest school shooting in American history” apparently using “a semi-automatic rifle, multiple pistols, and a collection pipe bombs.” The author further compared the scale of their purported threat to The Montreal Massacre, a mass shooting directed at engineering students in Montreal’s École Polytechnique in December of 1989.
Sarkeesian’s cancelled event has sparked further debate in the ongoing #Gamersgate controversy which has captured the attention of many members of the gaming community. The movement, which began in late August, is positively referred to as a rallying term to criticize the ethics of video game journalists. However other news outlets such as The Verge and The Washington Post has reported charges of misogyny, harassment and abuse toward women in the gaming community from the movement, which now faces even further controversy as its counter movement, #StopGamersgate2014, began circulating on Twitter as a popular hashtag on Wednesday, Oct. 15.
On USU campus, Sarkeesian’s cancellation has actually drawn immediate attention from students and alumni who, according to the Salt Lake Tribune and students, scheduled a protest on Wednesday which actively defended Sarkeesian’s right to speech.
Dani Elliot, a third-year journalism student at USU, said students began protesting the cancellation of the event around noon at the Taggart Student Center. Elliot, who first began looking Sarkeesian’s work when she learned about the controversy, believes that students on the campus are split between anger toward Sarkeesian’s inability to speak freely and agreement that the student’s, and Sarkeesian’s, safety should come first.
“I feel like it could have been a really good event,” said Elliot. “Some people are saying that this was an impeachment of her freedom of speech.”