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After violent protests raised concerns of student safety, administrators at UC Berkeley canceled a planned event featuring controversial far-right speaker Milo Yiannopoulos last Wednesday. “150 masked agitators” interrupted an otherwise peaceful protest, causing $100,000 of damage to the university’s campus. We commend UC Berkeley administrators for effectively and efficiently handling this situation.
While the incident has been framed as a battle over free speech on UC Berkeley’s liberal campus, it is important to distinguish intellectual diversity from hate speech on college campuses. It is imperative that college students gain a wide range of perspectives and evidence-based ideas to continue challenging their own opinions and worldviews, but universities should foster this intellectual growth by inviting principled conservatives to provide educational experiences for their students—not polemicists such as Yiannopoulos who hold little substance behind their contrarian views.
Yiannopoulos does not deserve to be granted the platform of a university campus to espouse his hateful beliefs. Institutions of higher education pride themselves on generating new knowledge and challenging old beliefs for the purposes of advancing our understanding of the world. Furthermore, these institutions are built on the principle of evidence-based research. In contrast, Yiannopoulos appears to challenge others’ beliefs simply for the sake of being a contrarian, and he does so with little tenability for his claims. Yiannopoulos is little more than a racist, sexist, and anti-semite who encourages hate and fear rather than intellectual thought.
There is strong precedent for believing that Yiannopoulos poses a tangible threat to the safety and well-being of university students. For example, in a sold-out talk at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee last December, Yiannopoulos singled out Adelaide K. Kramer, a transgender student at the university, by projecting her face on a large screen and proceeding to mock her in front of a packed crowd of laughing students. Following the incident, Kramer wrote to the chancellor of UW, “Do you know what it’s like to be in a room full of people who are laughing at you as if you’re some sort of perverted freak, and how many of them would have hollered at me (or worse) if I was outed? Do you know what this kind of terror is?” The far-right speaker’s views are incredibly hateful towards students who deserve to feel welcome on their college campuses. Yiannopoulos has proven multiple times that he is a significant threat to specific students. This alone should be more than enough for administrators to bar him from campuses in the first place.
In the midst of the debates of free speech and intellectual diversity, the irony of President Donald J. Trump’s Twitter responses is especially disheartening for student protesters across this country. Following the Berkeley campus protests, President Trump tweeted, “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” Moving forward, advocates of “free speech” must work to also expand their selective view of the constitution and recognize that the Berkeley student protesters who were peaceful were exercising their first amendment rights. President Trump’s immediate threats to pull federal funds from a public university due to student protests must be taken as a serious infringement on one of America’s most powerful democratic rights.
Members of Harvard should think twice before inviting speakers such as Yiannopoulos to our campus. Granting these figures a platform at our universities only serves to further legitimize their untenable, hateful claims and poses a threat to fellow classmates. Milo Yiannopoulos and other members of the alt-right have no place on college campuses. Harvard College's mission statement "seeks to identify and to remove restraints on students’ full participation"; the identification and prevention of hate speech is critical in this mission.
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