When members of a men's rights group tried to get a booth at the annual Johns Hopkins University Spring Fair to promote their point of view, they were unceremoniously told there were an unprecedented number of applications and no more space.
A few days later, another men's group applied, this one proposing to educate men to confront sexist attitudes toward women.
It got a congratulatory letter and a booth.
The second group, Baltimore Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault, is fictitious. And the first group, the National Coalition of Free Men, is angry.
After confronting the fair's student organizers about the different responses to the two men's groups, coalition president Jon Ryan got a letter yesterday saying his group was excluded because the students wanted to have "quality non-profit" exhibitors at the 20-year-old fair.
But late yesterday afternoon, 10 days after the coalition filed a discrimination complaint with the Maryland Human Relations Commission, university lawyers consulted by the students left a message on Mr. Ryan's answering machine: He can have a booth in next weekend's fair.
"We'll be there," said Mr. Ryan, an inspector for the Baltimore City Health Department.
"I just hope they don't put us near the Dumpster," adding that he wants space near a group promoting women's issues.
Richard Quarles, a senior and co-chairman of the fair, denied that the group was initially barred because some consider its views unorthodox. He said the fair's organizers were simply trying to invite groups with the most appeal to students.
As a result of the incident, he said, the Spring Fair committee realized it had no guidelines about which non-profit groups can participate. He said the students now will develop guidelines.
The popular student-run annual event, which draws upward of 100,000 people each year features music and dance, antique and crafts, cultural exhibits, food, contests and exhibits by non-profit groups ranging from the Red Cross to the House of Ruth, the Baltimore shelter for battered women.
Mr. Ryan said he applied for a booth to distribute such books as "The Hazards of Being Male," and "The Other Side of the Coin," after learning that the Hopkins Women's Center, which promotes awareness of women's issues, would be among the exhibitors. "I thought it would be a nice balance," he said.
He said many people don't like to hear that there are men's issues that both men and women should know about. For example, he said, everybody always talks about the fact that, in Maryland, 85 percent of spouse abuse victims are women. The remaining 15 percent are men, "but there is no House of Ruth for them. A lot of people laugh out loud at that, but we don't think it is humorous at all," he said.
"What we want to do is to let men know there are a lot of resources out there for them," Mr. Ryan said.
It was the lack of public understanding that led the coalition to try a subterfuge to get into the Spring Fair, he said.
"We had them cold," he said. "I am glad they are going to have a diversity of view points."