R. Kelly is a Grammy-Award-winning R&B artist, known for hits like “I Believe I Can Fly” and “Bump N’ Grind,” is set to perform at The Yuengling Center on Nov. 10.
He also has a troubled record of alleged sexual misconduct.
That is where some of the individuals in the Women and Gender Studies Department take issue.
Of them is Aisha Durham, a professor in the Communication Department, who also teaches some Women’s and Gender Studies courses.
Durham and her peers have mobilized a campaign calling for the cancellation of R. Kelly’s concert on campus. Their petition to do so has already received over 100 signatures of their 500-signature goal.
“I think that R. Kelly is the Bill Cosby of black American music,” Durham said. “I am saying that, in this moment, whether we are talking about #MeToo, #TimesUp or just thinking about hate speech in general, R. Kelly’s songs, while they report to be love songs, are really melodies of misogyny.”
Some of the past allegations against Kelly include him having relations with a 14-year-old girl, grooming young women for a “sex cult” and an arrest at his Polk County home in 2002 where he was charged, and later acquitted of, 30 counts of child pornography.
The allegations do not stop there, however. Just earlier this year, Kelly’s ex-wife, Andrea Kelly, said in an interview on The View, that years of alleged abuse at the hand of her husband left her suicidal at times.
Durham said her experience as a “hip-hop feminist” and survivor of sexual misconduct legitimize her stance.
“I want to emphasize what I am saying, not just as some old auntie professor who is say, ‘stop that music,’” Durham said. “This is coming from someone who identifies as a survivor, from someone who has done not only grassroots work in terms of my research as a hip-hop feminist, but also as a communication educator, knowing the power, significance and consequences of words.”
Durham said that she hopes members of the USF and Tampa Bay communities realize that though popular culture and musicians have the power to “illuminate,” they also have the power to “oppress.”
“In some ways, when we are saying ‘yes’ to R. Kelly coming to USF, we are also saying that it is OK to spew hate and to create an environment that makes people who are already vulnerable more susceptible to other forms of violence,” Durham said.
Durham said that even though The Yuengling Center is being rented out to the South Carolina-based Victory Promotions and BenHated, LLC, she still feels that they, and the university, hold some of the responsibility for who performs in their space.
“I think that if the Yuengling Center, in association with USF, agrees to have the concert of R. Kelly, then USF and the Yuengling Center are saying that we are open to any speaker, regardless of the hateful messages that any speaker or artist promotes,” Durham said. “I think it is affirming hate speech.”
However, University Spokesperson Adam Freeman said in an email to The Oracle that the university has nothing to do with who is booked at The Yuengling Center and deferred all questions to The Center’s management company.
“The organization that manages the Yuengling Center, Tampa Bay Entertainment Properties (TBEP), is responsible for overseeing and managing the facility’s operations, including event bookings,” Freeman said in the email. “The university does not actively participate in booking events.”
However, after repeated attempts via email, officials at TBEP did not respond to The Oracle’s request for comment.
Regardless, Durham stood by her message and said that a college campus of any kind should not welcome someone with the track record of Kelly.
“R. Kelly has had repeated sexual allegations about misconduct, in terms of grooming girls and battering young women, and I just don’t think that our campus should be hosting and should be welcoming a person who basically cultivates an environment that makes it vulnerable for girls and women, and particularly, girls and women of color,” Durham said.