When student Melissa Plyler stood up to address Erick Erickson on Wednesday, she drew a round of applause for her feisty question: What do you believe defines a feminist?
The query came after Erickson fielded a number of questions about his blunt opinions on feminism during a question-and-answer session at Mercer University. Students and faculty challenged the Fox News political contributor on a range of topics, mainly involving controversial statements Erickson has made.
Erickson stood by many of his comments, while admitting that a certain one was one of the dumbest things I ever did.
While many of the questions were challenging, the session was civil, living up to its title, Civility in Politics.
The event was a first for Mercers Founders Day, which has fueled controversy since Erickson, a Mercer alumnus, was invited to be speaker. Responding to an outcry from some students and faculty, the Student Government Association held the question-and-answer session in addition to the traditional Founders Day celebration Wednesday morning.
Having this forum was a brilliant move on the SGAs part, said Mary Ann Drake, a cultural studies professor. This discourse, this is what Mercers about.
Drake was one of more than 150 people who packed Penfield Hall to hear Erickson speak and to ask their own questions.
Some questions centered on politics. Erickson said he believes politics actually have become more civil, alluding to mudslinging and name-calling from the Thomas Jefferson era. Still, its hard to keep conversations civil in this age, he said, when comments are instantaneous and often in 140 characters, referring to the number of characters one can use in a single tweet on Twitter.
One student asked Erickson to comment on his controversial Twitter post, in which he called a former Supreme Court justice a derogatory term involving a goat. Erickson called it one of the dumbest things he has ever done -- but also one of his best moves because it helped him realize the impact he has.
There was a time I didnt realize the position I was in, he said. After the controversial comment, I realized I wasnt just talking to friends anymore.
However, he stood by another controversial social media comment in which he compared the Democratic National Convention to the play The Vagina Monologues. Erickson said it was a comment he made on his blog, RedState.com, because there was so much attention on reproductive issues at the time. When he posted the comment on Twitter, it blew up, he said.
I realize people were offended by it, and Im sorry they were, he said. But that was my position on it.
A student asked about another comment that many people deemed offensive: Ericksons defense of the Augusta National Golf Clubs ban on women.
I dont have a problem with men having all-men events or women having all-women events, he said. Someone followed up, asking Erickson that if people should be able to do what they want, shouldnt women be allowed to join mens golf clubs?
If men wanted them to be part of it, he said. If not, (men) shouldnt be forced to include women, he said.
Another audience member shouted, What about African-Americans?
Erickson replied that racial issues are different from womens rights because of history and the way black people have been treated in the past.
We didnt have hundreds of thousands of people die on the issue of feminism, he said.
Earlier in the day, Erickson spoke at the traditional Founders Day event in Willingham Auditorium, focusing on his own experiences at Mercer and how they shaped his life.
Erickson was a student at Mercer when Founders Day was brought back to the university, which made his invitation as speaker especially appropriate, President Bill Underwood said.
When speaking about his days as a Mercer student, Erickson recalled sneaking into the presidents office and the antics of other students.
He told the audience that sometimes the best decisions are the most unpopular ones. He used an example from his time at Mercer, when he was part of the student court system. During that time, a fraternity had planted homemade acid bombs outside another fraternitys house as a prank, prompting neighborhood fear and 911 calls.
Even though he was friends with many of the fraternity brothers -- and his roommate had recently joined the group -- Erickson recommended that the organization be suspended and that each member complete 50 hours of community service.
To this day, Erickson has not spoken to some of his former friends, but he said he thought it was the right decision. Erickson said he felt an initial punishment was not enough, which angered him.
If you havent followed my career, I can assure you that I have a healthy sense of outrage, he told the audience.
But his outrage was contained Wednesday as he calmly discussed political issues, as well as the controversy his own comments have prompted.
When Plyler asked him to define a feminist, he responded that he has never met a feminist that did not fit the conservative stereotype.
He went on to say that while he understands the academic value of studying women and gender issues, I dont know that I find it useful in the real world.
Plyler was not satisfied with his response, adding that she was one of the students who opposed Ericksons invitation to Founders Day.
I was a little bit offended by it, honestly, she said. His views do not represent the views of the students at the university at all.
Erickson said he was flattered by the invitation and happy to take part in the second event. Before the question-and-answer session, Erickson said he wasnt sure what to expect, but he suspected it would be a good conversation.
This has been fun, he said as the event concluded. Probably many of us will continue to agree to disagree.
To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.