LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Students can make USC proud by hosting, listening to and peacefully protesting Shapiro
Since the end of spring semester, USC has been shaken by traumatic and unsettling events. We lost a beloved student leader in our residence hall and new details emerged about the disturbing behavior of a former student health physician. This summer we also began a presidential transition. As a result, students, faculty and staff expressed their distrust of the administration as well as their hopes and dreams for the next University president through the local newspaper and presidential search listening sessions. We are standing at the crossroads of a new University. What we do next will define who we are for the next century. This is both a monumental task and an awesome responsibility.
This week we face yet another test of our values and character. Across the country, colleges and universities have entertained controversial speakers. Over the last couple weeks, I’ve listened to students express legitimate concerns related to a speaker invited to campus by a student organization. Student organizations have sponsored controversial speakers before, but the concerns generated by this speaker’s content ring a collective alarm.
In preparation for this piece, I viewed some of the speaker’s YouTube videos. I found the content of his speech to be abhorrent, painful, offensive and hateful. My gut instincts question why a University cannot simply deny a speaker’s invitation to spread his message on their campus. The students have pointed out that this rhetoric has no place in an educational environment that places such a high value on diversity, inclusion and respect for all.
However if we believe that the mission of an educational institution is to seek truth, advance learning and disseminate knowledge, then free speech, even offensive speech, is a prerequisite. We cannot deny speakers who have been invited by the student community based on the content of their message. If we intend to have a critical perspective on what is true and what is false, we need to hear both sides. We could not fulfill our duties to teaching and learning if we barricade our campus from offensive content.
It is true that our constitutional inability to deny or restrict hateful speech runs counter to our sincere efforts to advance equity and inclusion; however, I want to remind our community that no single speaker in one evening can set back all that has been achieved over the past decade. Our cultural centers, cultural assemblies and student leaders have made tremendous strides in making this campus a safer space for so many marginalized student populations.
Is it really possible this speaker can unravel all that has been accomplished to make our University better? Should we grant any speaker that much power? I hope the answer to these questions is “Hell, no!” My challenge for our community is this: If we believe in freedom of speech and expression for all, we must be willing to acknowledge vastly different viewpoints.
I believe we have more light than the darkness any speaker has to share. We have had controversial speakers on this campus before and in every instance, Trojans have made this university proud by practicing their right to peacefully protest and remaining true to their values after the speaker is gone. I fully expect our students to show the nation that one evening with one speaker will not fundamentally alter who we are and how far we have come.
Vice President for Student Affairs