The USC College Republicans’ decision to bring David Horowitz, a conservative writer and activist, to campus sparked controversy from the moment it was announced, but the outcry ramped up this week when some students were denied admission to tonight’s event.
The College Republicans, who are hosting the private event, are denying admission to around 30 students affiliated with specific student organizations, including Students for Justice in Palestine and the Progressive Alliance. Alexa Ekman, president of the USC College Republicans, said the group decided to ban certain students because they were worried about potential protests.
Ekman said the College Republicans has obtained copies of emails that made the organization feel there was a real danger of physical or verbal protest by members of SJP and other groups during the event.
Ekman wouldn’t say exactly why she believed a protest might ensue. She did, however, reference an Facebook message that was sent to members of SJP from the group’s president, Alex Shams.
The email tells SJP members, “The fact that a USC student group is bringing this kind of racist trash to speak at our school is absolutely unacceptable, and it is up to us as students to resist it. Students for Justice in Palestine has voted to oppose this speaker in any way possible, and I am now calling on you to help us figure out how to respond.”
In light of this message, Ekman said College Republicans was concerned.
“We’re worried about our event and the people attending and our speaker,” Ekman said. “We do have reason to believe that there is a threat of opposition, whether it is by words or via violence.”
Shams, a senior majoring in international relations, said he is angry about the choice of speaker because of Horowitz’s conservative principles, which often target Islam.
“Right now, the USC College Republicans is bringing a man who is a very vocal and famous racist and Islamophobe who has in the past come to campuses across the country and targeted students in a similar way with his hate speech,” he said.
But no verbal or physical protest was ever planned, Shams said.
“That protest wasn’t supposed to disruptive at all. It was supposed to be silent,” he said.
Leena Ali, a second-year neuroscience Ph.D. student and a member of SJP, said only a silent protest was planned.
“We weren’t going to shout anything; we were going to get up and turn our backs,” she said.
But Ekman insisted there was a real threat of a protest at the event.
“They have shown active involvement in preparation to protest our speaker, and [we] feel that the reasons above justify their denial to our event,” Ekman wrote in an email.
She emphasized, however, that it is not the protest that concerns USC College Republicans, but the way in which it might be conducted.
“We are fine with their protest,” she said. “We welcome their opinions and ideas, [but] not to the speaker on our time, and at our event that we paid for, in a disrespectful manner.”
Shams accused the College Republicans of denying anyone with a “Muslim-sounding” name entrance to the event, but Ekman denied that claim. Many members of Students for Justice in Palestine are Muslim.
“We are not letting anybody in those [specific] groups in. It has nothing to do with racial profiling,” she said. “We spoke with Heather Larabee, [assistant dean of students and director of Campus Activities], and we told her exactly what we’re doing, so we’re in the clear.”
Larabee did not return calls asking for comment.
Ekman said the USC College Republicans are using Facebook to determine if students are associated with SJP or the Progressive Alliance and emailing these students to tell them they will not be allowed to attend the event.
“This is event is entirely privately funded, and thus USC College Republicans reserves the right to deny entrance to anyone for any reason,” the email reads. “The rhetoric utilized by students opposed to this event has given USC College Republicans extreme concern regarding the safety of our speaker and all those in attendance of the event. We have excluded your names from the RSVP list. Please do not attempt to attend our event, as you will be denied entrance.”
The College Republicans did not attempt to talk to members of SJP before the event in order to find a compromise between the two groups, because SJP and USC Progressive Alliance demonstrated they did not want to make amends with the College Republicans, Ekman said.
“[The USC Progressive Alliance made] fliers that pretend to be from our club and are inflammatory and derogatory and are types of slander,” she said. “By putting those words in our mouth, they have usurped their rights to have attendance to our event because they are not respectful at all.”
On his blog, Horowitz addressed the creation of the fliers, which were titled, “Hate Muslims? So Do We!!” and refuted the Progressive Alliance’s claims that he is a racist, saying they misquoted him.
Horowitz wrote that the Progressive Alliance flier attributed a quote to him which was “entirely invented” and “represent[s] nothing” that he has ever written.
Despite the controversy, Dan Schnur, the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, said one of the benefits USC students receive is the opportunity to hear speakers of a wide range of ideas and opinions.
“Horowitz is certainly a very provocative speaker, but his is one voice of many in the debate over the future of the Middle East that has right to be heard,” he said.