Your political perspectives may undergo a myriad of alterations or affirmations after this Wednesday, an eventful day for the University of Redlands community. Ben Shapiro, the conservative political commentator and editor-in-chief of the Daily Wire, will speak at the university at 7 p.m. on March 15 in the Chapel.
In conjunction with the university’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, Shapiro is being brought to campus by ASUR Convocation and Lectures Department as a part of this spring’s political series, which aims to challenge and develop political perspectives through thoughtful discourse. The political series includes a variety of prominent figures, including Jim Messina, Billy Pope, Wazina Zondon, and Barbara Boxer. During Wednesday’s lecture, Shapiro is expected to comment primarily on the freedom of speech.
As the political climate both across the nation and on campus has become increasingly polarized in light of the 2016 presidential election, this lecture has grown to be particularly controversial. As a conservative commentator, Shapiro has made comments considered offensive to some people, specifically towards the LGBTQ community, women, and ethnic minorities. Shapiro has recently resigned from an editor position at Alt-Right newspaper, Breitbart News Network, and has also made it clear that he is not in support of President Trump. Still, Shapiro remains steadfast in his beliefs, using the Daily Wire, a newspaper that he himself founded, as a platform for his politics.
Jacob Khuri, the head of Convocations and Lectures and University of Redlands senior, made it a goal to challenge our perspectives by bringing diverse thinkers to speak on campus. Part of achieving that goal, according to Khuri, is to bring a radical conservative thinker to campus to give a voice to the Republican community. This led to the decision to invite Shapiro to speak.
“My goals was not to support his views, or in any way for ASUR to endorse what he has to say. I looked into him and basically disagree with him completely with almost everything he says,” Khuri said. “I think his voice is going to be uncomfortable and very offensive, but I also think it is going to be really important for an educational learning experience in college.”
Anne Thorson, ASUR President and a University of Redlands senior, worked with Khuri to achieve the objective of bringing a wider range of perspectives to campus.
“One of my main concerns with convocations and lectures the past few years is that we’ve brought a lot of people with the same viewpoints,” Thorson said. “So [we’re trying to] bring opposing sides. It’s so great to bring both sides of the spectrum.”
ASUR partnered with the university’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom to organize Shapiro’s event. Gina Macisaac, president of the chapter and a University of Redlands sophomore, is a follower of Shapiro’s commentary and believes that his presence on campus has the potential to further diversify the community.
“We preach about diversity of skin color, ethnicity, etc. but diversity of thought is forgotten,” Macisaac said. “Diversity of thought is what we should be focusing on the most because it is something we have control over, unlike our physical traits. We can change minds and make the world a better place when we include all thought perspectives at the table, especially the ones people disagree with.”
In a political forum held the day after the 2017 Presidential Election, Campus Diversity and Inclusion Director Leela MadhavRau mentioned the need for both safe spaces and brave spaces where people can engage in discourse with opposing political views. Khuri noted that this sentiment reaffirmed the importance of bringing Shapiro to campus.
“We are all in this bubble,” Khuri said. “That is problematic to our education because when you leave Redlands, that’s not going to be the case. The world is not a safe space. It is important to learn how to argue with people like Ben Shapiro, to be able to face a voice like his, to be able to witness and interact with someone that you are going to face after [college].”
In response to Shapiro’s presence on campus, Professor Tim Seiber’s class, The Club, has organized an event called **Liberated. A project spearheaded by University of Redlands senior Grace Easterby, the event aims to provide a safe space for students before, during, and after Shapiro’s speech. In addition to presentations from different clubs on campus, **Liberated will include a club music dance party, serving to uplift the community and is welcome to all. University of Redlands junior Kellen Levi helped organized the event.
“Although I think opposing conservative views are important, going to a speaker that doesn’t support your views could be harmful by making people feel personally attacked, especially since there are a lot of emotions tied to what you believe in and politics, especially around safe spaces, for people of color and the queer community,” Levi said. “Our objective is to be throwing an alternative event that is non-engaging and non-interactive with Shapiro’s speech.”
**Liberated is advertised as an event serving to “elevate the level of progressive political discourse on campus by bringing together a coalition of clubs and classes for a teach-in, potluck, and dance party of resistance.” Levi explained that her class has been studying the historical importance of club music as a way to liberate and revolutionize marginalized groups. With that, Levi said Shapiro’s presence on campus is an ideal reason to utilize the power that club music provides.
“There is a lot of historical context around this dance party of liberation. It seems funny and very liberal to throw a dance party. But house music and club culture stemmed out of a black, gay community in Chicago during the 80s,” Levi said. “That historical context, as well as the promotion of safe spaces, and I feel like Johnston is the ultimate safe space, that promotes what we want to be doing and treating people going into the future.”
The events on Wednesday are controversial amongst the student body, as the purpose of each is politically polarized. As such, organizing each has taken tremendous effort on the part of individuals involved, who have worked hard to ensure that each event will be a success. The administration, Student Life, the university’s lawyer, University Communications, and Public Safety have been coordinating throughout the semester to ensure the safety of students. As the event is controversial, Public Safety has been particularly transparent with the precautions taken to ensure the safety of everyone involved. Regarding security measures, private security will be present, the entrance of the chapel will be protected by a fence, and Public Safety will check under each seat in the Chapel to make sure nothing of concern is hidden.
“My hope is that students attend Ben Shapiro and really genuinely listen and evaluate, and then engage with him during the Q&A,” Thorson said. “It’d be awesome if the conservatives went to the **Liberated event afterwards to see what the liberal perspective is. As a group, think about what they believe. I think it’s really great that two things are happening on the same day.”
This coming Wednesday’s dual events offer options for the Redlands student body and greater community to be engaged, challenged, and liberated.
“It’s been a political year,” Khuri said. “A lot of us, including myself, are very sensitive politically. This contributes to the controversy on campus. Because it’s been such a political year, people have been more active, both liberal and conservative.”