Photos by Johnny Morris
Conflict clouded the Freestyle For Hope Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting event Sept. 29, as bullfighting enthusiasts were met by animal rights activists on their way into the UCCU Center.
“It’s inappropriate for universities to hold events like this that use animals for entertainment,” said philosophy professor and protest organizer, Karen Mizell. “…UVU is known for its ethical stances and ethics programs and we believe that the university should stand behind that [when] approaching these events.”
A letter submitted to President Tuminez from the Department of Philosophy and Humanities expressed “grave concern and dismay” about the event being held on campus. The department urged the university to end its support of these types of events. According to the letter, hosting these events goes against the university’s ethical conduct commitment.
It referenced the President’s Council policy statement issued in September of 2016 that states, “…we believe it is important to affirm Utah Valley University’s commitment to fostering ethical conduct in all that we do…”
“We are interested in bringing the complexity and the potential problems of these kinds of events to the awareness of students, faculty, staff and people who aren’t associated with UVU at all who just come to attend them,” said Katelyn Hickman, a protester and the president of UVU’s Animal Allies club.
It is not about politics, bashing culture, or the American West, Hickman emphasized; it is about the animals and their quality of life.
Gary Jones, founder of the 501(C)3 non-profit Freestyle For Hope, has a different perspective. He said that the animals are important and well treated.
“I can’t control people protesting — that’s their God-given right. But, if they’re going to protest, [then] they should know exactly what they’re protesting,” Jones said.
Jones emphasized that the event’s purpose is to help raise money and awareness for Type 1 diabetes with the funds going to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). Jones’ 17-year-old son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2007.
According to the Freestyle For Hope website, “Freestyle Bullfighting is the art of engaging a bull bred specifically to fight, they are born to fight, not made to fight or be mean, it is a type of dance of man verse beast.”
“I really think if [protesters] would take the time to get the correct information about the sport of American Freestyle Bullfighting, they would realize how important these animals are and how well treated they are,” Jones said.
The protesters understand that this is American bullfighting and not Spanish or French bullfighting, but still think it is problematic.
“[Bullfighers] think that they are just running around and essentially playing with the bulls, but the truth is these bulls are transported, loaded and are prone to injury,” said Mizell.
Christopher Foster, a spokesperson for the Humane Society of the United States, founder of Mormons for Animals and a philosophy adjunct professor, was at the protest to share a greater message.
Foster passed out pamphlets that had nothing to do with bullfighting or rodeos. According to him, the message of the protest is to stop cruelty to all animals in all forms.
“I am for kindness to animals, I am against cruelty to animals,” said Foster. “My agenda is not specifically targeted at the American Freestyle Bullfighting; that’s just an example of the exploitative behavior and a university being complicate, or implicatively complicate, in the exploitation of animals for mere entertainment.”
Fundraising for diabetes research does not require the use of animals for entertainment, the protesters stressed. They referenced a fund-raising walk in Portland that raised several thousand dollars for JDRF earlier this year.
“There are other ways to raise money for diabetes, there are other ways to celebrate the West and there are other ways to eat that don’t cause such grievous harm to animals and I think as moral beings it is incumbent upon us to find those other ways and practice them,” said Foster.
UVU’s spokesperson, Scott Trotter, responded to the concerns of hosting these events at the UCCU Center on Oct. 3.
“As a public university, UVU serves its community,” Trotter said. “The University’s UCCU Center is a particularly important resource, which from its outset was intended to serve the community’s interests. Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfight is a lawful, in-demand event in our community that is logistically well-suited to the UCCU Center. That said, UVU doesn’t oppose objections. In fact, as a public university, we are open to dissenting voices and respect anyone’s right to speak out if he or she chooses to do so.”