About 75 University of South Carolina students gathered Friday to protest the board of trustees for considering Robert L. Caslen as a presidential finalist.
Among the students’ chief concerns about Caslen — the former superintendent at U.S. Military Academy at West Point — was his statement during a presidential forum that reducing binge drinking could curb sexual assault.
“There is nothing that can make somebody commit sexual assault except for the person who commits sexual assault,” said Lyric Swinton, a USC student who spoke at the protest.
The controversy arose when, during Caslen’s presidential forum, he spoke on his efforts to fight sexual assault on campus.
“We went after this...not only sexual assaults, but we want to take up the contributing measures toward sexual assault, particularly alcohol,” Caslen said during the forum. “We had to spend a lot of time, a lot of energy, toward educating students about the consequences of alcohol, binge drinking, things like that.”
Students — who protested at the USC Alumni Center, where the board was meeting — also took issue with Caslen’s role in the War in Iraq, his support of the Contras in Nicaragua and the fact that Caslen did not possess a doctorate degree.
“His entire career has been contrary to the values of this institution,” said Ethan Magnuson, a sophomore political science and geography major who spoke at the event.
“We are not crusaders,” Magnuson said. “This is the 21st century.”
Protesters claimed that more than 400 students had signed a letter in support of William F. Tate for president. During the protest, Darius York read that letter aloud, which also criticized Caslen for his comments on sexual assault.
“We felt that this comment was insensitive and may reflect his moral stances on other controversial topics,” according to the letter.
Tensions on campus had been increasing since the presidential finalists were announced and included no women and only one nonwhite person. Those tensions had resulted in a letter signed by more than 40 student organizations and 120 faculty members that call on the university to include more diversity finalists for the president of the university.