Controversy surrounding the “Most Fabulous Villain on the Internet” fizzles
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Donning black sunglasses and a hat reading “Make Bucknell Great Again,” Milo Yiannopoulos strutted into a packed Trout Auditorium on Feb. 25 to speak to the University as part of his “Dangerous Faggot Tour.”
Yiannopoulos was brought to campus by President of the Bucknell College Republicans Tom Ciccotta ’17, President of the Conservatives Club Ethan Wise ’17, and President of Young Americans for Liberty Colby Rome ’17. Ciccotta initiated correspondence with Yiannopoulos to ask him to speak on the WVBU radio show. Yiannopoulos responded within seven minutes, saying “I think I should come visit.”
With increasing publicity of Yiannopoulos’ tour, specifically after his talk at Rutgers University, campus awareness increased dramatically overnight, according to Ciccotta. This awareness began a conversation centered primarily around the difference between free speech and hate speech.
“We believe that all speech should be permitted, with the exception of direct incitements of violence. The best way to defeat ideas is not to censor them, but to challenge and defeat them. If you believe someone is wrong, the best way to beat them is to shine a spotlight on their ideas and to challenge them, not try to hide them or prevent them from being heard,” Wise, Ciccotta, and Rome said in a joint statement.
In the week leading up to the event, posters advertising the event were ripped down across campus and Ciccotta was inundated with emails opposing his choice of speaker. Then, he said, he was “banned and censored from a Facebook event planning to create a safe space for an event I planned myself.”
“I was getting harassed from a couple individuals who I didn’t know. And for fear of other Bucknellians’ safety I cancelled the event,” Tooba Ali ’17, who started said Facebook event, said.
“It wasn’t a protest or anything, we wanted to go to the talk,” she clarified. But, she continued, “Somehow the people who told us ‘you should hear both perspectives’ were belittling us and preventing us from even going together as a group.”
Associate Provost for Diversity Bridget Newell sent out a mass email to students on Feb. 24 warning that anyone who purposefully disrupted the talk would be asked to leave, and instead suggested protesting in a designated area or simply boycotting the event to demonstrate their opposition. Many students were turned away before the event even started because of lack of space. No such protest occurred.
“To be clear, we certainly do not agree with everything that comes out of Milo’s mouth, but isn’t that kind of the point? The most efficient way to defeat fringe and radical opinions, and to foster intellectual growth is to challenge ideas rationally, maturely, and with respect,” Ciccotta, Wise, and Rome said in a joint statement.
By 6:40 p.m. on the night of Yiannopoulos’ talk, all seats were full in Trout Auditorium. Students were turned away despite requests for a change of venue to accommodate a larger audience.
Yiannopoulos was introduced by Ciccotta, who also warned that upon any interruption throughout the talk, a $5 contribution would be made to Donald Trump’s campaign.
During his talk, Yiannopoulos justified his opinions on the basis of free speech, also highlighting the importance of offensive speech because “it keeps us safe” by allowing individuals to challenge the establishment.
He also pointed to institutions like liberal arts universities as agents of stifling alternative points of view by “infantilizing” students. The faculty’s politically homogeneous ideology prevents students from broadening their horizons and being exposed to new perspectives, he said.
In the hour-long Q&A session, Yiannopoulos set the record straight and expanded on his highly controversial beliefs.
In terms of gender and race, Yiannopoulos believes that “middle-class, white women are the most privileged group in the history of our nation” and that gender discrimination is not a problem. Yiannopoulos holds that the progressive left’s ideology “damages the people they are supposed to help,” citing campus rape culture and the Black Lives Matter movement as examples. In both cases, Yiannopoulos emphasized the negative consequences of a “victimhood culture” in which grievances are overplayed to the extent that merely saying you have been wronged or offended is considered a valid argument by some.
Though a Trump supporter, Yiannopoulos doubts the viability of both the Democratic and the Republican parties. He called for the “existing party structure to be ripped apart and something new to be imagined and constructed.”
“The vast majority of Milo’s views are not extreme and are held by many Americans, but perhaps he gets that reputation from his style and schtick. Milo is the only conservative or libertarian speaker in recent Bucknell history who filled an auditorium with college students, and for that reason he was the perfect choice,” Wise, Ciccotta, and Rome said.