Event with social activist Linda Sarsour sparks controversy

 (Amber de Vos/Creative Commons)

(Amber de Vos/Creative Commons)

University of Connecticut College Republicans member Max Turgeon said that he is worried about administrative discrepancies in speaker vetting for an upcoming presentation by Women’s March organizer, Linda Sarsour.

In December, increased measures were created in response to a speech delivered by D.C. Bureau Chief and White House correspondent Lucian Wintrich when Wintrich was arrested following a physical altercation with an audience member in November.

The Office for Diversity and Inclusion, Women’s, Gender and Sexualities Studies along with other organizations on campus are sponsoring Sarsour’s event for March 7 as an opening to Women's Herstory Month.

Turgeon, a second-semester finance major, said Sarsour’s event is being handled differently than Wintrich and conservative writer Ben Shapiro’s events previously hosted by College Republicans.

“There were people from the university who were great to us,” Turgeon said. “But it still felt like we were working uphill and it was almost like we were being a bother, like we were out of our place.”

Turgeon said that he firmly believes in Sansour’s right to free speech and does hope that all students will be respectful at the event. He is concerned, however, about Sansour’s ethics.

“She has done some good things, but doing a couple good things doesn't dismiss the whole body of work,” Turgeon said.

Turgeon was referring to a tweet where Sarsour Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a famous activist and author, with Brigitte Gabriel, a leading member of a group that lobbies for stricter laws on terror.

“Brigitte Gabriel = Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She's asking for an a$$ whippin.’ I wish I could take their vaginas- they don’t deserve to be women,” Sarsour said on twitter in 2011.

Turgeon said that the university’s  treatment of Sarsour, given her extreme ideology, is unfair because she was not given the same pre-event screening standard as previous speakers.

UConn Spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said that claims of discrepancies amongst speakers are baseless because Sarsour’s event was subjected to the same rigor of event review used for Shapiro.

“On Monday, the national Fox News channel aired stories suggesting that UConn is holding Sarsour to a different, less cumbersome standard than it has held conservative speakers to. That’s not accurate at all,” Reitz said in an official email. “A person interviewed by the station said it was not, but that’s also not accurate and I do not know who, if anyone, he contacted before that interview to ask about it.”

UConn Deputy Chief of Staff to the President Michael Kirk said any variations between Shapiro and Sarsour’s appearances are due to the nature of the event.

“We do not anticipate anything close to the turnout for Shapiro,” Kirk said. “There is, at this point, minimal on-campus interest in [the event]. And there is no record of her other appearances triggering protests or other disruptions. That is why this event is being handled differently than Shapiro. The same was true for another recent speaker, Anita Hill. She generated no controversy or disruption at any of her recent previous campus speaking engagements and there was no indication she would be met with protests.”

Turgeon said he feels the university is not only contradicting how they have put on previous events, but also who they decide to sponsor for these events.

“There's quite an imbalance because the school has only invited a handful of Republicans and they have Democrats almost weekly,” Turgeon said.

Omar Taweh, a sixth-semester physiology and neurobiology and psychology major, said the university’s allotment of speakers is only a reflection of a continually changing political atmosphere.

“The millennial generation is more liberal than previous generations and that’s just a fact, it’s not an opinion because the data says so,” Taweh, member of Student Coalition for Race and Diversity, said. “With that being said, 50 years ago universities across the U.S. were conservatives and would have done the complete opposite.”

Taweh, who helped to organize last year’s March for Action in the wake of Wintrich’s arrest on campus, said that even though Sarsour’s ideology may align better with students, he is disappointed that the university did not offer the same counseling provided for events with Wintrich and Shapiro.

“I think it does reflect a bit poorly on the university,” Taweh said. “I'm not saying I see a need for it, but based on her history it might be in the university’s best interest to have counseling sessions in the same fashion.”


Lillian Whittaker is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at lillian.whittaker@uconn.edu.