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Sunday, Jun 23, 2024
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OPINION: Changing the world begins by changing Mercer

Eric Foreman poses on the Historic Quad with his rubber chicken, an award he received during his time as a Boy Scout.
Eric Foreman poses on the Historic Quad with his rubber chicken, an award he received during his time as a Boy Scout.

This is an opinion article. Any views expressed belong solely to the author and are not representative of The Cluster, Mercer University's Student Government Association, or Mercer University.

On April 4, Jennifer Grossman visited our campus after being invited by Mercer’s Center for the Study of Economics and Liberty (CSEL), to give a talk on “Putting the Capital Back in Capitalism.” This event was co-sponsored by Turning Point USA.

According to the CSEL’s website, the center’s mission is to "promote the development of scholarship and economic education rooted on the values of individual liberty, economic freedom, and principled entrepreneurship.” The CSEL brings two types of speakers: Economics professors from other universities and leaders of non-profit organizations that promote limited government and free-market economics. 

Previous speakers include Dr. Julio Cole, who presented on “defending Western culture,” Dr. Dan Smith, who presented on “Lawlessness at the Fed during Covid-19,” and Dr. Robert Lawson, who gave a presentation on his book “Socialism Sucks: Two Economists Drink Their Way Through the Unfree World.”

I would like to make it clear that some Business professors awarded extra credit to students for attending this event. Alexander Marshall, incoming Sophomore class president and a business student, said that Dr. Allen Lynch encouraged students to attend the event. Marshall also said that “most of the students were in [Willet Auditorium] for extra credit.”

While it is not uncommon for professors across campus to promote and incentivize students to attend University-sponsored events, it is important to point out that these are academic events with talks by leading authors, artists and scholars. They are intended to enrich intellectual life on campus and are not incendiary in nature.

Before the Grossman lecture began, students stood outside Willet Science Center, peacefully protesting. Quickly though, Mercer Police broke up the protestors. Mercer University is a private university and thus its campus is also private property. Under federal law, this means that they do not have to allow spontaneous protests on our campus.

However, our Community of Respect, as described in the student handbook, does ensure students certain rights. Per page 34 of the Handbook, the University values “Free inquiry, expression, and assembly as long as conducted in a manner that does not infringe upon the rights of others.” Under our current rules, there are no rules that mention protests or prevent them. In fact, our Community of Respect is supposed to ensure that students are able to assemble and protest peacefully. 

Dean Gerwig-Moore, a Mercer student present at the event, said that Grossman’s opening remarks at the university sponsored event were, “Hope everyone had a good Transgender Day of Visibility. For normal people it’s called Easter.” 

According to The Cluster, Grossman also said politically-charged comments about Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, President Joe Biden, and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., specifically saying that Kennedy's vice presidential running mate was “assassination insurance.” This, of course, is an undeniable and inappropriate reference to the assassination of his father, Robert F. Kennedy Sr., in 1969.

About 15 minutes into the event, Finn O’Brien, wrapped in a trans flag, walked down the Willet Auditorium steps and interrupted Grossman. In the video recording posted by the Atlas Society on their Facebook page, O’Brien states, “I am a transgender student and I want to thank you for recognizing Transgender Day of Visibility.” 

Before O’Brien can continue, he is interrupted by Grossman, who clearly says, “Oh you’re welcome, you’re welcome. I’m sorry you’re so confused.”

At this point, you might be asking, how do any of these statements relate to the CSEL’s mission statement? To put it simply: they don’t.

Most people are familiar with what happened next to O’Brien. O’Brien walked onto the auditorium floor and began shouting. Grossman then proceeded to follow O’Brien around and got uncomfortably close to him, yelling back. O’Brien then pushed Grossman, causing a MerPo officer to escort him out of Willet. O’Brien was charged with simple battery.

However, little has been said about what happened to Sky Grzybowski (they/them), a sophomore who spoke up during the event against Grossman. They spoke to me about their experience and showed me the videos taken while they were inside Willet speaking.

Grzybowski stood up in front of their chair and recited a prepared speech for a little over a minute. Then, a Mercer officer took their arm and brought them outside of Willet Auditorium. There, Grzybowski was placed in a Mercer Police car, driven to the Police Station on campus, and held for approximately 15 to 20 minutes. According to Grzybowski, MerPo never read them their Miranda Rights.

Although I will be graduating in less than a month, I cannot leave Mercer in good conscience without taking this situation seriously and saying something. 

Mercer University’s mission is “to teach, to learn, to create, to discover, to inspire, to empower, and to serve.” To succeed in this mission, we must promote a diverse group of speakers and ideas. 

Per page six of our student handbook, Mercer claims to be a Community of Respect, where “everyone is held in mutual high regard” and “each person deserves to be treated with respect and civility.”

Guests invited to speak at Mercer University, regardless of if they are invited by an administrator, officer, employee or student, must abide by all appropriate guidelines and policies. All guests must respect the dignity of each member in the Mercer community and value the worth of every individual, regardless of their beliefs. 

Violations of our Community of Respect, whether they be on-campus, off-campus or online, must be taken seriously, especially if they are considered potentially detrimental to the reputation of Mercer University, its students and its employees.

What Grossman said violates our Community of Respect. Stating that O’Brien, a transgender man, is “confused” and that she is “sorry” for his ‘confusion’ is unacceptable. Saying that a presidential nominees’ vice presidential choice is “assassination insurance” is inappropriate for anyone to say, especially someone who was brought to speak on behalf of Mercer University for a talk on capitalism. 

Additionally, the posts made after the event must also be taken into consideration. The Atlas Society, of which Grossman is the CEO, said that “America used to be better than this” after the event in a tweet that has now gained over 350,000 views. Our Community of Respect will cease to exist if we, as an institution, refuse to speak out against the hate being shouted at towards my peers in-person and online. 

I’m concerned that Mercer's LGBTQ+ population, which is composed of students, faculty, employees and administration, is being threatened. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I felt that Grossman’s presence on our campus and the lack of support we received from the University was a sign that we are not wanted here.

After these events, I find it difficult to believe that I’ll proudly say that “I’m a Mercer alum.” This is the exact opposite of how I felt when I first came to Mercer.

When I came to Mercer on August 11, 2020, I immediately noticed the slogan, “At Mercer, everyone majors in changing the world” screaming from every direction. For the past four years, I have tried my best to live this ethos.

For me, changing the world meant joining and working for the Opportunity Scholars Program, tutoring writing at the ARC, conducting research on the Abiotrophia defectiva genome and on concussions in the NFL, playing intramural flag football with friends, going with a Mercer on Mission program to South Africa to teach computer science, and serving as a Senator at Large on Mercer’s Student Government Association for my junior and senior years.

Making positive change is something that I take pride in doing. Every single day, I attach a large rubber chicken to my backpack. For many, they see the chicken and laugh. However, for me, it serves as a reminder of the impact a single person can make.

As a teenager, I was a member of Boy Scout Troop 10 in Martinez, Ga. In our troop, whenever a scout did a really good deed, they would be given a rubber chicken (I won’t pretend to know how this tradition originated).

When our troop went to Woodruff Scout Camp one summer, we attended an American flag retirement ceremony. For some context – in a normal retirement ceremony, each person in the audience is given a small piece of the flag. They then walk up to a large bonfire and place their portion of the flag in it.

One of the boys in our troop, who I’ll refer to as Tim, was special-needs, and for whatever reason, the man handing out the cut-up pieces of the flag chose not to give him one.

I decided to walk over to Tim and hand him my piece of the flag. Together, when it was our turn, we walked down to the large bonfire and placed it in the fire. We then walked back up the stairs and continued watching the ceremony.

Later, Tim’s dad teared up and thanked me for including his son. At the end of the week, I was given my chicken.

I take pride in the fact that throughout my life, I’ve been afforded many opportunities to make real change in the world. However, after reflecting on the events that occurred on April 4, 2024, I believe that in order to change the world, we must first begin by changing Mercer. 

Mercer itself has gone through plenty of change in the past. In 1963, two days after Martin Luther King Jr. wrote “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Mercer University announced that they would begin admitting students without regard to race, skin color, creed or origin.

In 2006, Mercer University ended its relationship with the Georgia Baptist Convention after convention members were disturbed by “a National Coming Out Day program on campus – called the Mercer Triangle Symposium – sponsored by a gay student group and supported by faculty and staff.” 

Now, in 2024, Mercer University has come to a crossroads with two possible options:

The first option is that Mercer University can ignore the multiple violations of our Community of Respect and sweep it under the rug.

The second option will be harder, but ultimately more beneficial. If we truly believe in changing the world, then I believe that Mercer must do the following:

1. Mercer University must unequivocally show support for all students and denounce the hateful and inappropriate comments made by Grossman and the parties with which she’s affiliated.

2. Because Grossman’s statements violate our Community of Respect, the University should consider whether Jennifer Grossman deserves to step foot on our campus again

3. The University must investigate the CSEL’s speaker choices and ensure that their events feature scholars from the entire economic spectrum.

4. The University must clarify their rules on protesting on campus. Currently, any restrictions on student protests are unclear. If we truly value the right to assemble, then Mercer needs to clearly state what is and isn’t allowed. 

Mercer University has the opportunity to pave the way for increasing the rights of students at private colleges across the country. Instead of shutting them down, Mercer University could propose a way to protect all students while also enabling students to peacefully protest. Additionally, the University can choose to show explicit support for its LGBTQ+ population. This is especially important since the rights of queer and trans individuals across our country are being stripped away as I write this. 

We must all work together to make Mercer a more welcoming and diverse institution. We must hold ourselves and our institution accountable. If we fail to do so, Mercer University as we know it will cease to exist. 


Eric Foreman '24 – The Rubber Chicken Guy

Eric Foreman

Eric Foreman ‘24 is the Senior Senator-at-Large in Mercer University’s Student Government Association.

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