Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro spoke to a standing-room–only crowd in Hoyt Auditorium Tuesday night, delivering his thoughts on free speech on college campuses.
Shapiro, invited by the UR College Republicans has been touring campuses across the country as part of the Young America’s Foundation’s Fred R. Allen lecture series, which self-purportedly seeks to “invade ‘safe spaces’” across the country.
After opening remarks from Anna Garvey, President of College Republicans, Shapiro acknowledged that he’s been met with vitriol at many of the campuses he’s visited. He implored those who disagreed with him to “stick around for the whole thing, and don’t walk out and don’t try and shut down the event because that would be both fascist and silly,” to hearty laughter from the audience.
“His speech was about what I expected,” said sophomore Rachel Casper. “The audience response, the laughter and general approval by many, was unexpected.”
Shapiro lectured on five concepts that he referred to as “stupid, nonsensical terms used to shut down debate,” listing diversity, white privilege, trigger warnings, safe spaces, and micro-aggressions.
The pundit delivered his remarks in his trademark acerbic style. After giving a tongue-in-cheek trigger warning to liberal audience members that what he was going to say “will probably hurt your feelings,” he made several remarks that necessitated an immediate repetition of his self-declared catchphrase, “facts don’t care about your feelings.”
Shapiro maligned the concept of the safe space, referring to them as “that warm, special cocoon that makes you feel all good about yourself.” After emphasizing that he welcomed dissent, Shapiro concluded his talk and opened up the floor for a Q&A session.
Shapiro’s lecture inspired a wide range of reactions.
Junior John Aho said, “I thought it was certainly an interesting event […] however, his actual arguments on race and privilege felt empty, as if he was avoiding grappling with the real grievances at hand in favor of simplified conservative filler.”
Junior Miriam Kohn suggested that “the Q&A would have been better if audience members submitted questions in advance.” She added that Shapiro “stripped [certain concepts] of their full context and straw-manned them, rather than engaging with the best versions of those arguments.”
“I think Ben Shapiro intended to make people angry and spark discussion, and I believe he achieved that goal,” Casper said. “I value discussion and respectful discourse, and have had many respectful, productive disagreements with other students since his speech. However, in my opinion, he was not respectful nor productive.”
Others had more positive reactions.
Sophomore Azfar Merchant was troubled by Shapiro’s abrasiveness, but said, “In a country where free speech is highly valued, people will sometimes be offended, but the solution is to debate the issues instead of preventing discussion.”
And, while Aho disagreed with tenets of his arguments on concepts like white privilege, he also agreed with Shapiro’s emphasis on the importance of conversation with those you disagree with.
“I certainly respect his willingness to come to liberal college campuses and have these discussions, with a surprising level of civility.”