Content warning: interpersonal violence
How we spend our money is a reflection of our values: when we purchase a good or a service, we are not just purchasing that good or service but everything that went into making it available, too. This is a key principle of ethical consumerism. We often view ethical consumerism as an individual decision, but this principle applies to organizations as well. The Music Group, a branch within the Vanderbilt Programming Board (VPB), invited Gucci Mane to headline Rites of Spring–Vanderbilt’s annual music festival. Based on Gucci Mane’s history of perpetrating interpersonal violence and the principles of ethical consumerism, this decision is a highly questionable one and may be potentially triggering for survivors of interpersonal violence.
We cannot ignore acts of violence for the sake of popular music.
In early 2011, Gucci Mane was arrested on a charge of misdemeanor battery. He allegedly pushed a woman out of his moving car after she refused his $150 offer to accompany him back to his hotel room. Furthermore, when commenting on the 2011 incident in his biography Gucci Mane did not show remorse, instead insisting the moving car was not traveling as fast as the survivor claimed. The crime he was charged with–pushing someone out of a moving car–is not the example we often think of when discussing sexual violence; the context, however–Gucci Mane committing violence after being refused sex–makes this case incredibly relevant in light of the #MeToo movement due to the ways it vividly shows how cultural acceptance of sexual harassment leads to physical acts of violence. We cannot ignore acts of violence for the sake of popular music.
Despite not being considered “recent” news, this information is quite easy to find. The aforementioned case was reported back in 2011–7 years ago. Who we choose to financially support and invite to our campus is a reflection of organizational values. As a student leader who has experience inviting speakers to campus, I am aware that Vanderbilt does its best to bring in outside speakers and performers that have not violated university values. The Music Group–and by extension Vanderbilt–has chosen to bring in a performer with a known history of interpersonal violence. There has been no attempt to discuss the choice to do so. Instead, it appears that the Music Group is attempting to sweep these allegations under the rug so students are unaware of these controversies unless they research the artist on their own. There was room to make this a conversation about interpersonal violence and methods of rehabilitation for perpetrators, as Gucci Mane did serve time for his crime. There was room to make this part of a larger conversation about rape culture and the frequency of interpersonal violence in our society. Neither of these things happened. By saying nothing, Music Group is telling the student body that Gucci Mane’s actions do not violate university values.
It is hypocritical to financially support a known perpetrator of interpersonal violence while simultaneously making efforts across campus to create cultures of reporting and to support survivors…
It is not merely Music Group’s money that provides a stamp of approval for Gucci Mane’s history of abuse: approval is shown via ticket sales and physical attendance at the event. In recognition of this, I have personally chosen not to buy a ticket for this year’s Rites of Spring; however, many people have already bought their tickets and are in need of the break from finals that Rites can provide. It is an individual’s choice whether or not to attend at this point. If you have already purchased a ticket, deciding whether or not to show support by physically attending the event should at the very least be an informed decision.
Gucci Mane is certainly not the only musician who has been accused of power-based personal violence; going forward, Music Group–and all student organizations, for that matter–must be cognizant of actions and values they are endorsing when inviting guests to Vanderbilt’s campus. Looking at the history of the Rites of Spring music festival this becomes clear. In 1989 the Red Hot Chili Peppers performed as part of the Rites of Spring music festival, unlike the decision to invite Gucci Mane information about various band members sexually abusive behavior was not widely available at the time, however we must reflect back with the critical analysis based on new information. We can only be as ethical in our consumerism as information available to us allows, however in a time in which information is so readily available we can no longer claim ignorance or attempt to sweep abuse allegations under the rug. Quite frankly, it is hypocritical to financially support a known perpetrator of interpersonal violence while simultaneously making efforts across campus to create cultures of reporting and to support survivors through resources such as the Project Safe Center. As a student involved in activism in regards to interpersonal violence, it is disappointing to see a student organization make a decision like the choice to invite perpetrators of interpersonal violence to campus.