Inviting Ben Shapiro does not help UConn

In this Oct. 3, 2017 photo, conservative writer Ben Shapiro speaks during the first of several legislative hearings planned to discuss balancing free speech and public safety in Sacramento, Calif. A University of Connecticut Republican student group has invited Shapiro to speak on Jan. 24, 2018, on campus in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

In researching and talking to others about this article, I found a common theme: Ben Shapiro may be alt-right, but he is actually reasonable. He is not a white supremacist, not a Trump supporter and not like the previous conservative speaker, Lucian Wintrich. He has been writing books on conservative talking points for a decade and a half, so he is not just part of the new wave of reactionaries. Regardless, the topic of his upcoming discussion at UConn - “Say No to Campus Thuggery” - leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Here is how I see Shapiro’s visit going: He arrives to a decently sized audience for the event, along with a great deal many more protesting outside. Among the topics of his speech, he brings up this group, alongside those who acted out during Lucian Wintrich’s speech. In addition, just as he did at previous events, he brings up the negative response to his arrival. (Who knows, he may even mention this article!) All in all, UConn serves as another place for him to peddle his usually anti-left sentiments.

I can predict this because this is not Shapiro’s first time giving the talk. Most famously, his speaking at UC Berkeley last fall prompted the university to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on security. Moves like this only bolstered Shapiro, and he took time in his speech there to mock posters and criticisms to his arrival. Additionally, the topic of his speech is not a foreign one to Shapiro; his first book was all about liberalism on American universities. I have little doubt in my mind that he truly believes in his cause and this talk, but he definitely makes the most of campus tensions.

Given UConn’s recent troubles with Lucian Wintrich, I am not a fan of the decision to invite Shapiro to talk on such a topic. I understand that he outwardly disagrees with the actions of Wintrich, but it does not change the fact that he (and the organizers of the event) are using the heightened tensions on campus to their advantage in the scheduling of this speech.

In listening to parts of his talks, it very much seems as though Shapiro revels in the thought of triggering liberals. Just as many of his “rational” peers, he and his audience enjoy putting people in their place with eloquent, soundbite-ready quips. As much as the left is ruining America’s youth and institutions, they are doing great things for Ben Shapiro’s publicity.

However, that is where the issue lies. Ben Shapiro acts as a leech, using bipartisan tensions to gain more notoriety and fame. I do not have a problem with him speaking his mind and reaching his audience. I do not like that my university is being used as the battleground for these politics. UConn has so much to offer and people like Ben Shapiro are taking advantage of recent issues to paint UConn as nothing more than a den of liberal degeneracy. It is reductionist and gives the university an unfairly negative image in the eyes of the greater public.

Let me be clear: I do not want to silence free speech and I think Ben Shapiro has every right to speak his mind at a college campus or elsewhere. However, with my own free speech, I question the prudence and motives of endorsing and inviting him to speak at UConn at the current time. I can understand frustration with campus climate, but looking to Shapiro is a self-defeating move. He is not concerned with UConn or its campus climate. His goal is primarily to fan the flames in hopes of boosting his professional image.


Peter Fenteany is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at peter.fenteany@uconn.edu.