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Stop Chasing Speakers Off College Campuses

by Kristina Vakhman  

There are a million other things I’d rather be doing than listening to Ben Shapiro—a conservative political commentator—spew hatred, ignorance and all sorts of mumbo-jumbo that isn’t in the least bit based in reality. One of those things isn’t, hypothetically, running him off university grounds with a pitchfork.

Shapiro visited the University of Connecticut last Wednesday to deliver a speech entitled “White Privilege, Microaggressions and other Leftist Myths” on the invitation of the UConn College Republicans and on the sponsorship of the conservative group known as Young America’s Foundation, according to The Hartford Courant.

The event had restricted access, permitting only the attendance of UConn students and faculty with their university identification cards, as well as a number of special guests. Additionally, the audience was warned multiple times before Shapiro came on stage that any form of disruption would result in removal from the occasion and possible consequences. The buffed-up presence of police reminded participants of these strict policies.

The amped precautions came in light of the protests and arrests that occurred the last time UConn had a controversial speaker visit its campus in November of last year. As a result, these extra measures were put in place to deter more instances of smoke bombs and broken windows.

Nothing malignant occurred this time, but the fact that UConn had to go the extra mile because someone’s views don’t align with the views of the majority of the campus population is ridiculous. Further, UConn College Democrats hosting a left-leaning speaker at the exact same time to offer “an intellectual alternative,” as written in a post on their page, was even more ridiculous.

Shutting down or ignoring those we disagree with has become a trend. Rather than debate, we have resorted to screaming matches, where the victor is decided based on who’s the loudest. The one place that should be immune to this stupidity is a campus.

Colleges are institutions where free speech, free thought, tolerance and the opportunity for discussion should be extended to everyone, along with the guarantee of a safe environment to do so. Moreover, they are supposed to be havens for education—that’s their whole point—and no one learns anything when hostility is the response to the discomfort that comes from listening to another’s differing perspective.

UConn and many other universities across the United States have fallen into the pattern of shunning, disinviting and blocking certain individuals from giving speeches because the campus population is too sensitive to listen to unfamiliar opinions.

It’s easy to react violently when you feel threatened by an idea that repulses you and hard to calm yourself so that you can engage in healthy dialogue to defeat your opponent with facts; universities should advocate the latter approach better and students need to train themselves to live by this approach better.

Some call left-leaners “whiny” and “snowflakes.” In this instance, they’re not wrong. Being a liberal, I cringe every time a speaker has their invitation to a campus retracted or is blocked off by protesters. If you’re barring a speaker because you’re fighting for inclusion and justice, you’ve failed. You’ve not only proven yourself to be discriminatory and closed-minded, but have also given more validity to the argument that the left is a bunch of babies who can’t accept the “truth.” You’re no better than those who cry “fake news” about media they don’t support.

Still not convinced what you’re doing is an issue? Think about it this way: if an event with a speaker goes smoothly, it won’t make national headlines; if a large-scale fiasco of civil disobedience ensues, like in 2017 at the University of California-Davis where protests against Milo Yiannopoulos ended up with a man getting shot, it’ll give the speaker being silenced a greater platform when they make the papers.

Plugging your ears and singing at the top of your lungs to disregard someone makes you a coward. Standing up to debate a bigot is what makes you strong. Get out of your ideological bubble and force yourself to sit through someone else’s views, no matter how much they nauseate you. Sit down with those conservative grandparents of yours and practice disputing them with hard evidence of why what they’re saying is wrong.

You can’t shush racists or ignorant tools. They’ll always exist as long as humankind exists. What you can and should do is fight them with facts, not with barriers or your fists; let them embarrass themselves on college campuses.