SPEC leaders say they do not regret their selection of Miguel, who is set to perform as the Spring Fling headliner this coming weekend, despite student protests over a 2017 sexual assault allegation.
After the Social Planning and Events Committee announced that Miguel and J.I.D would headline Fling on April 13, a group of Penn students created a Facebook event titled "Stand Against Miguel at Fling" to protest the singer’s “atrocities." The organizers call on students to stand against Miguel by not purchasing a ticket or by leaving before Miguel’s performance. Since the event surfaced, more than 250 people marked "going" or "interested" on Facebook.
SPEC President and Wharton senior Elizabeth Goran said the group was unaware of the 2017 allegation at the time they booked Miguel, despite running a mandatory background check on the artist.
“I wouldn’t say I regret the decision at all," Goran said. "I would say as a leader of SPEC, we appreciate that people have varying opinions of the artist, and we’re very sensitive of the concerns that students were bringing up.”
In March 2017, University of New Mexico student Xian Bass alleged that Miguel forcibly grabbed her breast and removed it from her shirt without consent after she took a photo with the singer. Bass detailed the alleged incident in an Instagram post with a picture of her and Miguel, Billboard reported. Miguel was not charged for the 2017 incident and he denied the allegation in a December 2017 statement to Spin Magazine.
When deciding on an artist, Goran said SPEC — including the three SPEC Concert co-directors — and outside talent agencies compile a list of artists, consider prices, and send out "bids" to performers they deem appropriate. The concert directors then send an approval to Penn's legal team, which includes a biography of the artist and any legal controversies they have faced, specifically arrests or criminal charges.
Goran said SPEC may consider expanding their background checks beyond criminal charges and requiring checks for sexual misconduct allegations in the future.
The Facebook protest was organized by College senior Erica Rego and seven other Penn students on April 5. Rego said she remembered hearing about the allegation in 2017, and following SPEC's announcement, Rego and her friends decided to organize the event to give students the opportunity to stand in opposition to Miguel's performance.
“We decided this would be a good way for us to band people together who also felt really angry that our school chose a predator as our performer,” Rego said. "In hiring a sexual predator who is going to sing a song about how cool it is to use alcohol as a weapon to assault women at Fling, that’s just sending the message to all the perpetrators of sexual violence on campus that their behavior is encouraged by Penn.”
Rego cited Miguel's 2012 song "How Many Drinks," in which he sings the lyrics, “How many drinks would it take you to leave with me?” She said the lyrics were inappropriate and offensive because of the implication that it is acceptable to use alcohol to take advantage of women.
College sophomore Shana Vaid said she plans to boycott Miguel’s performance in light of the allegation.
“A commitment to believing and supporting survivors of sexual violence applies whether it's a politician you hate or someone you admire,” Vaid said. “Separating the artist from the music is one thing, but actively supporting an abuser in person at one of their concerts is another."
People who choose not to purchase Fling tickets will not be affecting Miguel's payment, Goran said, as SPEC has a legally binding contract with his agency and Miguel will be paid a previously negotiated amount following the performance regardless of attendance.
“I would want people to be aware that ticket revenue doesn’t go into Miguel’s pocket or J.I.D’s pocket,” Goran said, adding that the revenue goes toward production costs for the concert.
Goran said students who already purchased a ticket will not be eligible to receive a refund.
Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention Chair and College senior Kara Hardie said she believes "every survivor," adding that while she understands there may be logistical constraints in finding another performer in time for Fling, she is disappointed that SPEC did not conduct a more thorough background check.
“By each individual using their voice and speaking out against this, I think there is power in that,” Hardie said. “While it won’t make a financial impact for Miguel, it makes a statement about where our values lie and what we care about as a student body.”