Op-Ed, Opinion

OP-ED: BU must disinvite Ben Shapiro immediately to protect its students

Op-Eds do not reflect the editorial opinion of The Daily Free Press. They are solely the opinion of the author(s). 

Anu Sawhney (CAS ‘20) is the co-chair of the Young Democratic Socialists of America at BU. She is part of a coalition called BU Students Against Hate Speech, which is working to oppose the proliferation of “hateful, violent rhetoric” on campus. You can contact the coalition at [email protected] or stay updated on upcoming events on their Facebook page, BU Students Against Hate Speech.

As the co-chair of the Young Democratic Socialists of America chapter at Boston University and as a woman of color at a largely neoliberal institution, I’ve long accepted that higher education institutions rationalize decisions that may compromise the welfare of their students with the benefit these decisions bring to their own capital and reputation. 

That’s why I was disappointed but not surprised when I learned that the BU administration had approved the request of a conservative group to allow alt-right talking head Ben Shapiro to speak at an event this November. Members of the group, Young Americans for Freedom, have come to the defense of Ben Shapiro, who promotes the spread of far-right and openly fascist ideas. 

As stated in a petition launched by several student organizations on campus including BU College Democrats, BU Students Against Imperialism, BU Young Democratic Socialists, BU Feminist Collective, BU Students for Justice in Palestine and the Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Activism, Shapiro has a history of making bigoted remarks that do not deserve a platform at Boston University. The petition, on change.org, currently has over 1,500 signatures. 

Members of YAF believe that Shapiro’s hateful rhetoric should be protected as “free speech.” However, these remarks are not a form of Shapiro “exercising his right to free speech” but rather are a form of hate speech aimed at dehumanizing and disenfranchising whole sections of the population, including BU students and community members. 

The unfortunate thing is that it’s relatively easy to get swept up in the specious “free speech” arguments that organizers of the event and even the university administration make. The Daily Free Press reported that after negotiations, the Dean of Student Activities agreed to cover security costs amounting to $12,720. Why does a private institution have to provide a platform for hate speech while otherwise claiming to foster ideals of inclusivity? Are marginalized students really that disposable to this administration when it comes to protecting their image?

Those who defend Shapiro’s right to free speech forget that he does not have a right to a venue and a crowd at a private institution whose values he does not respect or adhere to. BU does not have to tolerate, let alone platform, Shapiro.  Shapiro’s hateful remarks promote views that are offensive to anyone who is not in a position of privilege. 

In 2016, he tweeted “Trayvon Martin would have turned 21 today if he hadn’t taken a man’s head and beaten it on the pavement before being shot” in reference to the fatal shooting of the unarmed Black teenager in 2012. He also advocated for the forced transfer of Palestinians, tweeting in 2010 that “Israelis like to build. Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage. This is not a difficult issue. #settlementsrock”. Shapiro later partially retracted his support for sudden, complete relocation, but this and other statements still stand to dehumanize entire groups of people, is racist, and serves to justify the oppression and military occupation of minorities and oppressed people here in the U.S. and abroad.

Most recently, Shapiro came under fire for making homophobic statements, saying in a video that if politicians try to push an agenda of “LGBT indoctrination” in schools and leave parents with no choice he will “pick up a gun.” Shapiro was one of the most searched right-wing figures by the Quebec City mass shooter. Let alone being hateful and “conservative,” Shapiro has on more than one ocassion incited violence, and this most recent comment is almost a direct call for more mass shooters, as if Quebec wasn’t enough of a controversy for his taste. It should be clear that at some point free speech contains opinions that are extremely unsafe and embolden those who may be prejudiced against minorities. It is irresponsible of Boston University to allow this ideology of hatred to breed yet more hatred on campus. 

Instead of condemning remarks that incite violence, YAF is busy preparing to bring Shapiro on campus and thereby endanger the safety of their peers, tweeting about a club visit to a gun range with the hashtag #BenShapiroSecurityDetail. Although they claim this is a joke, this raises only more questions – why would the group bring a speaker on campus who would need that level of protection? Why would it ever be a joke to bring guns on campus in 2019? It should also be noted that Shapiro denies the existence of transgender people, has defended the use of conversion therapy on gay people and calls homosexuality a sin. 

In the months leading up to YAF’s request, Boston University formed a Free Speech Committee and announced that the University Policy on Free Speech is “that the remedy for speech that is distasteful, emotionally and intellectually uncomfortable, or even offensive is not suppression of speech, but more speech.” Not only does this undercut the collective harm of hateful, bigoted speech, but it also brings into question what would permit the suppression of “offensive speech” — nothing in the First Amendment states that students of a private institution are obligated to foot the bill for and allow a bigot on their campus. Students of color and queer students are the most vulnerable and yet somehow the most disposable under this university policy that essentially leaves us to our own devices should Shapiro come to ‘debate’ us and spread hateful rhetoric against us.

This ‘free speech’ argument is increasingly used as a guise to proliferate hateful rhetoric. The hypocrisy of this could not be starker: BU is a school that prides itself on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. but is ready to institute a policy that would incite fear among vulnerable students and enable Shapiro to espouse hateful beliefs toward them solely to serve their own interests and to salvage a neoliberal reputation.

All of this feeds into a culture of political apathy on BU’s campus, despite the fact that we urgently need to build solidarity and awareness among our peers. Unfortunately, our fellow Terriers often feel as though doing so is not a valuable use of their time and is discouraged by the university.

The current situation at Boston University with YAF requires us to build a student-inspired movement against hate, intolerance and facism that cannot be suppressed by the university administration and their corporate interests. 

We must protect our peers of color, women and queer students if the university will not, because it is just a fact that hate breeds more hate — as seen from shootings and a general uptick in hate crimes after the Trump election and under his administration nation-wide.  If BU wants to continue to promote itself on the legacy of MLK and ideals of inclusivity and diversity to its students, to the community and to the world, then it must disinvite Ben Shapiro immediately.




32 Comments

  1. Total misrepresentation of Mr. Shapiro in every way imaginable.

    • Yes, he’s being completely misrepresented… by his own quotes. The fact is that Shapiro has a history of spouting incredibly hateful rhetoric, and there’s no shortage of quotes to show this. For you, here’s another quote from Mr. Shapiro: “Facts don’t care about your feelings.”

    • no, this is a pretty accurate representation. he’s a troll who stirs the pot for $$$. he has nothing insightful to add to the political conversation whatsoever; his job is to be incendiary in public. if BU wants a dialogue with conservatives surely they can find someone whose resume isn’t a series of people they’ve insulted on talk shows.

      • …are there any left? Pretty sure that the real intellectuals left after 2016 (Max Boot, etc).

      • Some comments are misrepresenting Shapiro. When they cited the comment in which he said”pick up a gun” they forgot to include the fact that he was referencing Beto O’Rourke’s call for the church to be cutoff if it doesn’t support same-sex marriage. This is a. Unconstitutional due to separation of church and state and B. A misrepresentation because he is fighting to raise his own children through the Jewish Religion, which would be affected by the statements of O’Rourke. This is not about schools. Additionally, he has wished the transgender community well in past speeches. While I can agree that their are definitely better Choices for a conservative speaker, Shapiro is very we’ll known and had appeal to BU students. Personally, if BU could have him strike an accord with them that he wouldn’t spout homophobic rhetoric or try to insult anybody, then this speech could be more supported by all around the campus.

  2. This op-ed is itself hateful rhetoric. What a disgrace, coming from someone who claims to be “working to oppose the proliferation of hateful, violent rhetoric on campus”.

  3. I am pretty sure that if somebody forces you to listen to Ben Shapiro, you can report them to the appropriate authorities and the problem will be dealt with.

  4. Joseph what’s it like being an inception

  5. Mackenzie Finocchiaro

    Boston University receives public funding, and is therefore required to adhere to the First Amendment in order to maintain this funding. We’re not at college to run away from hateful ideas, but rather to fight back against them with logic. Please remember why we are here.

    • And are you likely to be affected by the hate that he will stir up while coming to campus? If not, maybe reconsider shooting your mouth off on decisions that won’t affect you.
      To your comments about the law, BU doesn’t have to provide a forum, security detail, and microphone to Mr. Shapiro, at students’ expense. YAF is certainly welcome to host him in whatever classroom they reserve for their regular meetings.

      • Mackenzie Finocchiaro

        First of all, I ask that when you argue against me, you use civility. Please, and thank you 😊

        Second of all, no one is required to go to this event. Whether or not he is in our classroom he is still on campus, and people will be upset either way. And as for the security detail, why do you think it is provided? Because there is a threat that certain students will become violent and cause major damage and harm due to him coming (look up UC Berkeley). So if the damage is caused by students, then it should be paid for by students, right?

        Remember this: freedom of speech does NOT equal emotional safety from hateful words. This is a sacrifice you have to pay as an American citizen for freedom of speech. Whether or not you like it is irrelevant: it is a fact of American law. And the sacrifice paid by thousands of military men and women for freedom of speech will forever be FAR greater than ANY emotional sacrifice you will have to pay.

        • if civility in discourse is high on your priorities, maybe you should support someone other than Ben “facts don’t care about your feelings” Shapiro.

          • Mackenzie Finocchiaro

            Not sure how my preference for civility relates to objective reality. Objective reality is ignorant to emotion. He’s right. You can be civil and still state facts not tainted by emotion at the same time. In fact, I’d call that ultimate civility, as you’re not letting your emotions color your argument.

            If you’d like to have a debate with me, my email’s [email protected]. You can continue there. Thanks!

    • ❝Boston University receives public funding, and is therefore required to adhere to the First Amendment in order to maintain this funding.❞
      Uh, no, that’s not how it works. Private universities can be selective as to what viewpoints to platform, regardless of government funding.
      https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/457/830/

  6. Mackenzie Finocchiaro

    Also in the words of MLK:
    “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

  7. Such a misrepresentation. Shapiro apologized for the arabs tweet. He’s right about everything else that he was quoted saying in this article. Are we supposed to never forgive someone for a bad take they had years ago? Looking forward to Mr. Shapiro coming to speak at BU.

  8. Sal Squeglia

    This statement might shock this “BU Students Against Hate Speach” group, but I’m perfectly capable to listen to any opinions and make my conclusions. I don’t need any group’s agenda limiting or telling me what they think I can hear. Stop trying to pretend that you have all the answers or some moral highground. Your retoric shows your ignorance. Congratulation to BU for allowing differing opinions to be expressed on campus. This exchange of ideas is what the college experience is all about.

  9. Reasonable Person

    No one will be negatively affected by Ben Shapiro speaking. If you find yourself so cartoonishly offended by ideas you disagree with (mainstream conservative ones, I might add) then you are not suited for the intellectual rigors and challenges of university. Toughen up.

    Ben Shapiro is not controversial. He is friends with, respected by, and does shows with intellectuals from across the isle like Sam Harris, Niel DeGrasae Tyson, Andrew Yang, just to name three.

    Students’ ability to freely engage ideas doesn’t end where your feelings begin.

    • The fact that considering transgender people to be mentally ill is “mainstream” conservative, says more about your morally bankrupt political movement than it does about our “sensitivity”.
      And the “friends” you cite consist of the following: a pervert, a “prosperity gospel” snake-oil salesman, and a guy who pals around with eugenicists like Charles Murray. Great ref list.

  10. Dave from Boston

    Ben Shapiro is an intelligent and insightful commentator, who has a great daily podcast during the week. Listen to it free on SPOTIFY! He offers a mainstream conservative analysis and happens to be very entertaining as well. If you want to hear an excellent discussion of the Dem political candidates for President, turn on SPOTIFY every day. He is not a hater, unlike the hooligans who want to shut him down. You might as well attend and learn something. If you can’t hear anything the bursts your leftist bubble, you don’t belong in a university. Celebrate diversity at BU, yes intellectual diversity. A devoted listener.

    • Dave from Boston, in Berliner Zeitung comments section, circa 1929:
      “Intellectual diversity is important! We should have some politicians who think Jews SHOULDN’T be murdered, and some who think they SHOULD! Get out of your leftist bubble, snowflakes!”

  11. There is not one kernel of truth in this column. Ben Shapiro is not a bigot or a racist or a member of the alt-right movement. I fact, the alt-right hates him. Shapiro is not the one spewing hate, the writer of this column is doing that. I hope the university ignores your petition and even laughs at it.

  12. Man with the Axe

    Shapiro’s speech is not “hate speech” just because you don’t agree with him. And even if you find his ideas hateful, that does not obviate his right to speak and the right of those who invited him to do so. When you try to silence those with whom you disagree I have to ask: Who is the fascist here?

    • Well, no…it’s hate speech because he thinks that trans people are mentally ill. And BU is a private institution; he has as much right to be here, when only a handful of Randian wing nuts want him, as I have to invite myself into your living room.
      As to who’s the fascist, I leave you with this:
      “[Transgenderism] is a mental illness.”–Ben Shapiro.
      “Albert Moll was one of many psychiatrists whose theories influenced Nazi understandings of homosexual behavior. Writing in 1905, Moll attributed homosexual desires to mental illness”–Eliot H. Boden, 2011.
      Draw your own conclusions.

  13. Silence Dogood

    I didn’t know the alt right were letting in orthodox Jews like Shapiro to their club, they must be hard up for members

  14. Vladimir Lenin

    Why so scurred? If Shapiro is such a hateful ignoramus, put on the big girl pants and debate him. Prove that your 50K tuition is worth the money.

    The irony is: for such a “socialist” this is whiney bourgeois behavior at its finest. Look at this behavior from the left not the right. Really weak and pathetic.

  15. @John Sand,

    It’s an indictment on this university that someone as moronic as you could possibly be enrolled here. As sorry I am that your precious ears can’t handle a few words from Mr. Shapiro – I would consider an alternate solution: don’t attend. There are a considerable amount of conservatives on this campus, far more than you’d like to think, and unfortunately their tuition dollars are worth as much as yours. We’ll push past the fact that almost all of your preceding statements have been misleading with regards to context or just pure falsehoods, and instead talk about how ironic it is that a student at a school who regularly hosts liberal commentators to speak without a word of opposition from right wing students openly wants to silence all dissenting viewpoints on campus. It’s extremely telling that the side calling the right dangerous and fascist is the very side trying to silence all contrasting viewpoints on campus. Welcome to the real world, where people have different opinions. If you can’t handle it, cover your ears.

  16. Jacob Barnsey

    Funny how many people say that Ben Shapiro’s speech qualifies as hate speech even though he doesn’t condone hating the people he’s speaking about. I know many people don’t like having their views challenged. But just because they “hate” what he says doesn’t mean its hate speech.

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