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Guest speaker at mandatory sorority and fraternity life meeting strikes controversy

Some  students have expressed various concerns about this semester’s Grand Chapter speaker, Brian C. Johnson, who spoke to members of UNH fraternities and sororities on Wednesday, March 1, in the Granite State Room of the Memorial Union Building.

Once a semester, Grand Chapter is an opportunity for all recognized sorority and fraternity members at UNH to get together and hear from a guest speaker.

According to the UNH Fraternity and Sorority Life website, “Grand Chapter seeks to encourage students to learn more about their strengths, skills and their individual and communal roles within the Greek community.”

Johnson was hired by MUB leadership to speak on issues of cultural appropriation. However, some students in attendance found his speech to have been directly offensive to what the fraternity and sorority community stands for.

“Brian C. Johnson was supposed to speak on the topic of cultural appropriation; however, his speech was far from it,” said Alicia DelVento, student senate fraternity and sorority life liaison. “During his speech, he marginalized communities and made discriminatory comments against students in the crowd.”

According to DelVento, several students expressed concern to her directly after the event.

“The ideas, values and stereotypes he perpetuated during his speech are completely opposed to what the fraternity and sorority community stands for,” DelVento said.

“Cultural appropriation has been an issue that a lot of people wanted us to get a talk about,” said Interfraternity Council (IFC) President Christian Merheb. “But there was an abundance of issues with the talk.”

Panhellenic (Panhel) Council President Meghan Linehan expressed similar concern.

She wrote in a statement concerning the event that “I would like it to be known that what was mentioned last night is completely unacceptable, and will not be put on the back burner.”

“Not only was [Johnson] offensive and downright rude, but also misconceived some of our [fraternity and sorority] life values and never once explained why or apologized,” Linehan wrote.

Linehan and Merheb noted specific examples of what was said during the talk, which included comments about women wearing makeup and wearing leggings.

Johnson is a faculty member in the Department of Academic Enrichment at Bloomsburg University. Johnson’s official website also describes him as a minister, youth pastor, speaker and author.

According to Linehan, “The office of [fraternity and sorority] life funds half of the speaker and the IFC and Panhel council cover the other half, split between the two council, but this speaker was not paid so we were reimbursed.” The total cost for the speaker would have been around $5,000.

“It was very disappointing,” Merheb said. “He was brought to speak about a very important issue, but was out of line and problematic.”

According to Merheb, a small number of UNH students expressed support for Johnson’s talk on Twitter.

In the most recent Student Senate meeting, a resolution was passed which stated
“[Student Senate] does not condone the stereotypes, ideas and beliefs expressed by this speaker and that going further the speaker selection process shall return to the past practice of including the Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council.” The two councils were not involved in picking Johnson as this semester’s speaker. 

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