On Friday, Aug. 25, the University of Maine hosted its annual “Maine Hello”, where approximately 2,500 first-year students were welcomed onto campus. While driving down College Avenue, families were greeted with sheets hanging from the sides of apartments, bearing messages such as “Honk If She’s 18” and “Daughter Drop Off”.
By Friday afternoon, the Orono Police Department (OPD) and the University of Maine Police Department (UMPD) had received several calls regarding the signs. UMPD Chief Roland LaCroix and Dean Robert Dana, vice president of student affairs, made their way to the houses.
Their first stop was on College Avenue, where one of the signs was posted. The residents of the home took the signs down immediately. Their second stop was to a house on Park Street with a sign that read “Honk If She’s 18”. These residents did not take the sign down when asked by UMPD and Dean Dana, but did once the OPD visited their property.
The displays were immediately introduced to social media, where a Twitter thread erupted. Students, faculty and police all expressed their concerns regarding the signs. The conversation began with parents pointing the blame to the various fraternities located on College Ave, which was not the case.
The intentions of the signs were not clear, though many defended the messages as a lighthearted part of college tradition. Others, however, saw the banners as offensive promotions of rape culture.
“The banners were seen by thousands of incoming first years and their families,” Sam Saucier, a fourth-year student in Sociology and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, said. “The fact that those students felt it was okay to put the banners up demonstrates the larger systemic problems of the campus that make students rightfully feel unsafe.”
Saucier, also the co-founder of the new Women’s Resource Center on campus, referred to the hanging of the banners as “the sort of action that normalizes misogyny.”
Faculty and students got involved, some taking the opportunity to have an open conversation about what speech like this really means. “We’ve never had a larger dialogue,” Susan Gardner, director of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGS) and the Rising Tide Center for Gender Equity at UMaine, said. “Let’s dig deeper about why people are offended. What does it symbolize? There’s a lot of stuff packed up underneath.”
Gardner is organizing a panel on the topic of these banners, hoping to get a wide array of opinions to gain a deeper understanding of this controversy. “Our current political climate provides a doorway for this conversation,” she said. “If we can’t have these conversations on a college campus, where can we have them?” Gardner said. This panel will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 5 at 12 p.m. in the Bangor Room of the Memorial Union.
Another argument that was heavily debated on social media was the First Amendment rights of those who posted the signs on their property. Dean Robert Dana, the Vice President of Student Affairs, told the students that while this sign does not break any laws, it does break the student conduct code.
The residents that hosted these signs did not respond to requests for comment.