On Thursday, commentator and provocateur Ben Shapiro will speak at Bovard Auditorium. The past few weeks have seen mixed reactions rippling across campus, ranging from fierce defenses of discourse on a college campus to warnings from students about the implications and dangers of Shapiro’s platform. The Trojan Advocates for Political Progress believe the presentation of such a speaker under the guise of free speech and discourse to be not only intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt, but also dangerous to marginalized and vulnerable groups here at USC and in the surrounding community.
As our fellow students and allied organizations across campus continue to spread the word and sound the alarm, we are often met with surprise that we take offense at this so-called moderate speaker on our campus. Though many of Shapiro’s stances are cemented within the context of the modern conservative movement, we take issue not only with his half-truths and deceptions, but also with his demeanor, falsehoods and rhetoric, all of which invalidate the experiences and struggles of marginalized populations. Ultimately, Shapiro hides behind the facade of moderate politics while espousing hateful and dangerous lies.
In a world where, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” and on a campus striving to hit its 2020 Sustainability goals, Shapiro instructs us: “The idea that the Arctic ice is disappearing is nonsense” and “The earth — basically — has not been warming for the past 15 years or so.”
In a country struggling to overcome homophobia and transphobia, Shapiro refers to the legalization of gay marriage as the “the homosexual assault on traditional marriage” and to transgender people as “mentally ill.” While there are countless cultures with non-binary views of gender, he asserts “the idea that sex and gender are malleable is not true” and, “for all of human history, boy meant boy and girl meant girl” to invalidate those of such identities.
He claims that “there is no evidence of systemic discrimination against minorities” by police departments despite the fact that the Justice Department has found “‘systemic’ discrimination” by Baltimore’s police force. And while Shapiro casts former president Barack Obama as the “first Welfare Queen president,” he proclaims, “The reason people are permanently poor in the United States is not because they don’t have money — it’s because they suck with money,” despite the many studies that prove that institutional factors keep the rich rich and the poor poor.
With many of Shapiro’s ideas outdated at best and dangerous at worst, we are left to question: “What is his true purpose on this campus?”
As the posters around campus which depict liberals as babies indicate, his supporters want to infantilize and denigrate us, rather than engage in thoughtful debate. The word “university” derives from the Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium, which roughly means “community of teachers and scholars.” This definition encompasses the two aims of the modern university: to tie students closer to one another, and to knowledge. Using this framework as a foundation, any speech that seeks to injure the student body’s relationship to one another and to academic inquiry ought to be challenged. The horrifyingly divisive rhetoric and lies illustrated above not only violate both the principles of community and knowledge, but also belie disingenuous appeals to logic, discourse and freedom.
Too often, many conflate opposition to Shapiro and others like him with disregard for free speech and dialogue. In the wake of the unveiling of a white supremacist on our campus, our administration told us to combat “hate speech with more speech,” in a memo. But when confronted on campus with an individual who espouses racism, transphobia, Islamophobia and falsehoods to undermine the historical struggle of marginalized groups, a question and answer period cannot suffice with student safety and well-being coming into question. At a university where we prize and respect diversity of sexual orientation, race, gender, religion and economic background, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard.
As the title of Shapiro’s speech indicates: “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” We agree; facts don’t care about Shapiro’s feelings or his falsehoods. As an organization, we implore our fellow students and administration to avoid falling for the trap of enabling hateful and dishonest rhetoric under the pretense of free speech.
Trojan Advocates for Political Progress Executive Board