“Cream Pie” sign causes controversy

Alex Nemec

The controversial sign hung at a residence in front of Evans Hall during Fall 2016 move-in.
[/media-credit] The controversial sign hung at a residence in front of Evans Hall during Fall 2016 move-in.

Conflict erupted at UW Oshkosh after off-campus students hung a controversial sign across from Evans Hall during a freshman move-in day.
The sign read “Free cream pie with valid freshman ID,” which can be construed as a derogatory sexual reference. This prompted UWO Chancellor Andrew Leavitt to address the campus via email one week after the incident.
A similar sign was displayed near the UW-La Crosse campus on the same weekend, which prompted outrage on social media from offended parties.
Leavitt said he was deeply saddened that anybody, including students, would think this has a place on our campus.
“I can only imagine the disheartening impact this event had on women – who constitute a majority of our students, faculty and staff at UW Oshkosh,” Leavitt said.
According to Leavitt, Dean of Students Terri Gohmann, university officials and an officer worked quickly to have the banner removed and discipline the perpetrators to the fullest extent of University policy.
“I want to apologize to the women and men who had to experience this first-hand as they were moving in,” Leavitt said.
Austin Hein, the resident who hung the sign from the house he rents, said the sign wasn’t meant to be disgusting or make anyone upset.
“It was six kids and all of their friends giving away free pies,” Hein said. “There was nothing twisted or disgusting about our sign….There were actual cream pies. We weren’t doing anything sexual.”
Hein said the Chancellor saying his sign was targeted towards women is completely false.
“Nothing about the sign discriminates any type of gender,” Hein said. “It was one hundred percent for all freshman. I had a lot of people come up and ask for them, they were pieing each other, having fun.”
The Advance-Titan reached out to Gohmann for comment, but Gohmann deferred all media inquiries to Interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Brandon Miller.
Miller said absence of gender doesn’t prevent the sign from promoting rape culture.
“It reinforces rape culture because both men and women are victims of rape, and rape affects all genders, both directly and indirectly,” Miller said.
According to Hein, the sign had nothing to do with gender and purposefully portrayed neither gender.
“The reason I know it was for freshman is cause it was freshmen move-in day,” Hein said.
According to Hein, Gohmann and a female Oshkosh police officer came to his home and asked him to take it down.
“I’m not going to do that because one, I’m not breaking any laws. I’m giving away free pies, because it’s free, I don’t need a permit,” Hein said. “Then the cop said ‘You know, you’re right because it is freedom of speech you can hang whatever you want.’”
The sign hung from a Discovery Properties house, and according to the lease they signed, residents are not allowed to hang signs from the house.
Hein said when he refused to take the sign down, Gohmann threatened him.
“Then the Dean of Students looks at me and says ‘You’re right I can’t do anything about it because it’s not school property. But I tell you what, I’m going to call your landlord because I want it taken down,’” Hein said. “Is that a threat? Then she looks at me and goes ‘Yeah, it is a threat.’”
Miller said Gohmann asked the student to take down the sign and he refused.
“The Assistant Dean asked the student what his landlord would say about the sign,” Miller said. “The male asked if that was a threat. The Assistant Dean initially responded, yes, then said that was a misstatement. The Assistant Dean then said it was a fact, a promise, that the landlord would be notified. The male said to the police officer that the Assistant Dean just threatened him. The City of Oshkosh police officer told the male that what was said was not a threat.”
University Police Chief Kurt Leibold said University Police attempted to contact the residents as soon as they heard about the incident, but received no answer at the door.
“Several hours later, people were observed in the front yard of the residence,” Leibold said. “At that time, a representative from the Dean of Students office along with a member of the Oshkosh Police Department responded to the residence and made contact with people claiming to be residents of the house. They were asked to remove the sign, however they refused.”
Director of the Women’s Center Alicia Johnson said the way Leavitt addressed the lewd sign effectively spread awareness to the campus community.
“I think that he did an excellent job articulating the issue, [and] making the campus and community aware that he is aware of the issue and is taking some steps to work against that,” Johnson said.
Johnson said she would like the students to come talk to her in the Women’s Center about the issue and thinks it is a teachable moment.
“I understand the push for punishment, especially to signify to other members of the community that type of action is not tolerated,” Johnson said. “But for the people who put up the sign and thought it was an appropriate thing to do, I would love for the opportunity to talk with them and really kind of get to the root of the issue.”
Social work major and UWO student Kate Seeber said Hein could’ve used better wording to get his point across.
“I feel like that was just kind of an excuse then to just make the sign okay, the fact that they had the actual pie,” Seeber said.
Business major Tony Alioto said it sounded more innocent once he found out that they were actually handing out cream pies, and he thinks they were using the innuendo as a joke.
“I think they probably should have taken the sign down,” Alioto said. “But I don’t think they should get in trouble for it.”
Hein said he can respect everyone’s political opinion, but doesn’t stand for people who are threatening him.
“People are talking about throwing Molotov cocktails…through our windows all over Facebook,” Hein said.
When asked what he would like done to resolve this issue, Hein said he wants an apology from Leavitt and Gohmann.
“I want them to send another email discussing that they were wrong,” Hein said. “I want them to address the two mistakes that were placed in the email that they sent out to the entire school cause that’s disgusting and unprofessional.”