Amid controversy over revised guest speaker policies at the University of Connecticut, conservative writer Ben Shapiro presented his speech “White Privilege Microaggressions and Other Leftist Myths” to an attentive crowd at UConn Wednesday night, discussing his viewpoints on controversial topics such as abortion and rape culture.
Police surrounded the outside of Lewis B. Rome Commons, the event’s location, accompanied by members of the UConn Fire Department. Security guards ushered the crowds of people into lines stretching around the building, using metal detectors and prohibiting the entrance of any bags.
This heightened security was brought in following a speech by Lucian Wintrich, a blogger for the Gateway Pundit, whom UConn College Republicans brought to campus in November. Wintrich was arrested after he grabbed a community college advisor trying to retrieve his speech, which she stole from the podium.
A large, unorganized crowd of counter-protesters often would not allow Wintrich to finish his sentences, causing unrest during the event. This resulted in UConn administration altering its policies on guest speakers to involve approval by the university for a speaker to appear.
Ben Shapiro’s appearance, organized by the UConn College Republicans and sponsored by the conservative group Young America’s Foundation, drew no mass protests, although there was a counter-lecture hosted by the UConn College Democrats at the same time. The audience at Shapiro’s event, largely white and male, applauded Shapiro with each of his quips.
Shapiro began his speech by expressing his concerns about the double standard he claims is placed on conservative speakers.
“It is unfortunate that the heckler veto still seems to prevail. Anita Hill spoke here and it was totally open to the public,” Shapiro said. “Something has to be done about a system where a few crazed leftists decide they don’t want to hear somebody speak, and therefore people from the outside who pay taxes to universities like this one can’t get in.”
Shapiro said that, while he was appreciative of the university’s heightened security, he wished the safety protocol would have allowed members of the general public to attend.
“It’s a great thing universities have people like me, and yes, like the person who is speaking opposite of me on this campus, to give variation of ideas; it’s a wonderful thing,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro said he hoped this exchange of opposing ideas would lead to “a nice cordial event.”
“We are going to exchange ideas, and don’t yell at each other and don’t steal notes, and by the way, I have hidden copies of my speech under every seat in this room,” Shapiro said. “You get a speech and you get a speech and you get a speech.”
Joelle Murchison, associate vice president and chief diversity officer for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, took precautions to assist students who were uneasy about Shapiro. Murchison wrote in an official e-mail that if students were concerned with Shapiro’s appearance on campus, they could express their thoughts and feelings at offices in the cultural centers.
Shapiro said he feels this action is like “a missile being launched from North Korea; you just have to put the alert system on Twitter.”
“I’ve heard that I’m a danger to the student body so much so that the university's vice president and chief diversity officer, the most useless title, suggested that students who feel threatened by my presence should reach out to the cultural centers and the dean of students,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro said those who were upset by his presence most likely didn’t show up to hear his discussion that concentrated on social topics regarding race and crime rates, abortion, sexism, rape culture, transgender people and the one percent.
Damon Reynolds, a second-semester finance major, said that although he did not agree with all of the points Shapiro presented, he did find value in the overall presentation.
“I think it’s very important we have a free exchange of ideas,” Reynolds said. “I wouldn’t say I agree with everything he said, because I am my own person, but he did have some valid points and valid solutions on how to go forward and fix our political culture.”
All of these points contributed to Shapiro’s overarching discussion of what he termed “factual truths.”
“No one can stand against ‘Your Truth,’” Shapiro said in reference to the “Your Truth” movement by talk show host Oprah Winfrey. “This is absolute bullsh*t, the idea that you have a truth is not right. There is just fact and opinion.”
Some points Shapiro articulated were that “race does not cause crime,” “women are not victims in the United States,” “the idea that transgenders can’t be changed is not true” and “you’re not tied to your class in America.”
After his speech, Shapiro opened the floor to those who had questions regarding his discussion. During the Q&A, students lined up and asked about topics ranging from health care to abortion.
Although few students openly opposed Shapiro’s beliefs, Shapiro said he wanted more intellectual diversity to be brought up during his event. He encouraged those who opposed him to “skip to the front of the line.”
One student in opposition asked, “How do you account for statistical manipulation?”
Shapiro responded by saying he could back up any given statistic with sources and footnotes.
The same student asked, “How do you defend your opinion [on abortion] as a white, religious, well-off man?”
Shapiro answered, “Evil things are evil even if I’m a white, well-off male.”
Another student asked, “Why can’t we let a transgender woman be called ‘she’?”
Shapiro replied, “Because it’s a lie… it undermines barriers between women and men that I think are useful, particularly in children.”
Kevin Kwon, an eighth-semester history major, said he found value in Shapiro’s speech and felt the event reaffirmed a greater need for security to protect free speech.
“The sheer amount of security and police involved is a testament to the state of free speech on campuses,” Kwon said. “The disruptive protests at a smaller event with a much less known speaker [Lucian Wintrich], shows how dissenting opinions now require police support.”
Kwon also said he noticed many like-minded individuals sharing their thoughts during Shapiro’s Q&A session and hopes that future events will include more diverse opinions.
“I wish there was more opposition there since it kind of got repetitive,” Kwon said. “I hope next time more people show up to have a civil argument.”
Lillian Whittaker is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.