Media critic and blogger Anita Sarkeesian canceled a speaking engagement at Utah State University (USU) on Oct. 15 due to threats of public violence.
Sarkeesian is best known for her YouTube series “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games,” where she discusses feminism and the roles that women play in many video games.
Because of her outspoken views, she has become the target of the online campaign “GamerGate.” GamerGate was initially built around journalism and ethics in the video game community but is more known for threatening feminist critics of video games.
Sarkeesian is no stranger to these kinds of threats and had planned to go through with her event at USU until she learned that, due to Utah’s open carry law, anyone with a valid permit would be allowed to bring firearms into the venue.
“That was it for me,” Sarkeesian told the Salt Lake Tribune. “If they allowed weapons into the auditorium, that was too big a risk.”
WSU communication professor and active gamer Robin Haislett followed the events as they unfolded.
“As someone who has received rape and death threats against her and her family, I would have made the same decision,” Haislett said. “I completely understand her reasoning for canceling.”
Since the cancellation, the president of USU, Stan Albrecht, has released a letter to faculty and students regarding the situation. In his letter, Albrecht said that he is deeply saddened that Sarkeesian had to cancel her talk because she felt unsafe.
“While some have called for me to declare our campus gun free,” Albrecht said. “That is not a decision for USU, but a decision for our state legislature and elected officials.”
As a professor, Haislett also has concerns about Utah’s gun laws.
“It’s scary for me as a professor,” Haislett said. “Because I know that I will be speaking about controversial issues and any one of my students could have a weapon on them, or that a civilian could walk into the classroom with a weapon.”
Students have also voiced their opinions about the cancellation and Utah law.
“It’s just turned into a scary world,” said Jenny Lake, a WSU English major. “I get that people are fighting for their rights, but it seems like the wrong way to do it.”
Haislett has also been following the activity of the GamerGate campaign online and has seen the effects of their threats and intensity.
“This is supposed to be where we are bound together,” Haislett said. “It’s this huge mass experience and something like this where a woman is being told ‘you can’t talk, you’re wrong, we’re going to threaten to shoot a school if you continue with this speech against games.’”
Haislett added Sarkeesian’s speech isn’t against games, but bringing attention to feminist issues raised by games.
“(These issues are) not something we are proud of,” Haislett said. “Why don’t we try to change things a little bit?”
Those involved with GamerGate have also raised concerns about their identity as gamers and what it means in today’s society.
“Journalists have also called the identity of gamer being dead,” Haislett said. “They think it’s being taken away when really it’s just evolving.”
Note: This article was updated to include that Sarkeesian was interviewed by the Salt Lake Tribune.