UConn’s handling of Ben Shapiro’s speech was unfair to students and the public

Ben Shapiro’s speech, titled “Say No to Campus Thuggery,” was a popular draw at UConn last week (Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus)

Ben Shapiro’s speech, titled “Say No to Campus Thuggery,” had gone along smoothly without violent protests. But then again, the last conservative speaker Lucian Wintrich didn’t have so fine an escort of more than a dozen security guards. The public didn’t need to figure out that there was a low-key wrist band requirement, which, to many students’ dismay, had unofficially been given out two hours earlier. And of course there’s the fact that a Democratic speaker named Nathan Robinson held a speech at the same time entailing specifically that Shapiro’s views were nonsense.

Many had looked forward to going to the Shapiro speech. Personally, I enjoy listening to his speeches online and on television, whether on stations such as Fox News or CNN, and through his online YouTube show ‘The Daily Wire’. Unfortunately, I didn’t expect how UConn would handle the public speaker’s appearance. I had been told--through friends of friends and from them alone--that wrist bands were required for the speaker’s and the audience’s safety, and that officials would only hand them out on the day of Shapiro’s talk at one in the afternoon.

In the span of only minutes, the tickets were sold out. It was understandable this would happen. The room Shapiro gave his speech in had space for an audience of measly a 500. But really, who’s fault would that be? Ben Shapiro is a universally-known political speaker. UConn should have taken this into account and granted him Jorgensen auditorium, which has a great deal more space. Not to mention Anita Hill, a liberal political speaker, had performed her speech in Jorgensen on January 18, and it had been frequently advertised. The theater has over 2,300 seats in capacity. The line for Shapiro was a mile out the door well before noon. Could Shapiro have filled up the seats in Jorgensen? One cannot say, but from that impatient line of students alone, there were a great many who were denied a wrist band.

Ben Shapiro may not be walking a great path by giving a speech amid concerns over political speeches at UConn. This path had been made dangerous by Lucian Wintrich’s visit last November during his “It’s OK to be White” speech. Tensions rose high for conservatives because of a poorly-named speech and a poor reaction by the speaker in concern of dealing with protestors. Safety concerns became UConn’s priority. But, why did they have to check Shapiro’s speech? “We don’t regulate speeches based on content,” said Susan Herbst, UConn’s President, to a journalist in Boston.com. “This is purely to make sure that it is safe, secure and protects everyone’s rights.” Was Shapiro hiding a gun in his words? If protecting everyone’s rights was the case here, then that would mean reviewing the speech’s content so it would also be protecting the rights of those opposed to Shapiro in the first place. It passed, apparently, but not enough to lower the amount of security personnel and limit admission.

It was offensive that Robinson scheduled a speech at the exact same time as Shapiro’s. He had the right to do so, but one must know what intention he had, for planning such a speech at the same time as the right wing speaker. There had even been therapists prepared to help anyone offended by Ben Shapiro. No therapists for Robinson, though. Why must counselling be offered to those who don’t like hearing specific sentences? If you don’t like his viewpoints, then just disagree. Rant about it with others who feel the same way, and you’re all set. Don’t seek mental counsel. Ben Shapiro has a right to make his speech. What’s sad is that although he performed successfully, restrictions crippled the effectiveness of his performance.


Joseph Frare is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at joseph.frare@uconn.edu