Ben Shapiro, a noted conservative columnist and author, discussed freedom of speech Thursday evening in the Rackham Graduate School Amphitheatre, drawing a crowd of approximately 300.
The event — hosted by the Young Americans for Freedom with funding from Central Student Government — highlighted issues Shapiro described as attacks on freedom of speech and a free society, such as microaggressions and the concept of privilege.
The event follows a week in which freedom of speech has been a prominent issue on campus, following anti-Islam chalkings on the Diag alongside pro-Trump messages, which garnered national media attention and prompted discussions about hate speech and the safety of Muslim students.
CSG discussed the issue at length in their final meeting of the semester on Tuesday and ultimately passed a resolution making the University a sanctuary campus for immigrants.
Shapiro began his talk by addressing the chalkings, saying he wouldn’t normally support Trump except in instances people are offended by messages of support for Trump, proceeding to write “Trump 2016” on a chalkboard.
“There is only one thing that I can do to support Trump,” he said, “when there are precious snowflakes who whine and cry when people write pro-Trump things on the ground.”
Shapiro also addressed the controversy he has recently attracted at events on other campuses, such as a February speech at California State University, Los Angeles.
At CSULA, a police escort was required for Shapiro’s exit following his speech, according to tweets Shapiro sent out at the time. The talk at CSULA was initially cancelled by CSULA President William Covino, who stated at the time he wanted to reschedule the event and involve other speakers to create a diversity of viewpoints.
Shapiro charged that CSULA was stopping a diversity of opinion by preventing his talk, saying that “diversity” is one of the words liberals frequently use, but only use in the context of race and not in reference to diversity of opinion.
“Diversity here meant that I had to shut up,” he said. “The kind of diversity that the Left loves is restricted… to diversity of skin color.”
At the University, flyers put up by YAF promoting the event were torn down across campus and an advertisement put out by the group was vandalized, according to the group’s website.
LSA sophomore Grant Strobl, one of the event’s organizers, said Shapiro’s talk offered a space to hear opposing viewpoints in a moderated context.
“The event was a resounding success,” he said. “This event impacted campus by giving an example of an event where we all can listen to ideas that we might agree with and do it civilly. We need to have more discussions on campus without worrying about it being shut down.”
Talking about another one of his five topics, microaggressions — common, seemingly minor but offensive comments often directed at a minority group or individual — Shapiro told an anecdote of a time when he called a transgender woman “sir” on national television, and she responded with a joking threat.
He said the other panelists he was with then reprimanded him for his offensive remark, validating the woman’s aggressive response. Allowing this sort of response to a microaggression, he added, infringes on his right to speak freely and make his own decisions.
“You can not like what I say, but that doesn’t give you the right to put your hands on me,” he said. “All of this creates a very dangerous world. The Left is taking a battering ram to those two fundamental bases of Western civilization: You are responsible for your own actions and in a free society you can say things without people assaulting you.”
Shapiro also touched on privilege, saying the concept of white privilege is a myth and can instead be replaced by other types of privilege like two-parent household privilege and crime privilege. To back up his point, he cited a series of statistics that showed children raised in single parent households do disproportionately worse than those from two-parent households, regardless of race.
Looking at criminal justice, Shapiro argued that racial profiling does not occur, and instead police stop or arrest minorities at rates proportional to the rates they commit crimes. He said the easiest way to avoid being arrested is to avoid committing a crime.
“It turns out that if you want to avoid prison, the easiest way to do that is to actually not commit a crime,” he said. “Here’s a fact about the supposedly evil and racist justice system: It under-prosecutes murder in minority communities.”
Several national reports show that people of color are often arrested at higher rates than white individuals. According to the Washington Post, Black drivers are twice as likely to be arrested during a traffic stop as whites. Additionally, in Dearborn, more than half of the arrests in 2011 and 2012 were of Black citizens. However, Blacks only make up 4 percent of the town’s population, according to DiversityInc.
Addressing a question about how to participate in debates with supporters of Bernie Sanders — who won the Michigan primary and has a large support base on campus — Shapiro said one should ask questions or simply not participate in discussion.
“One of the things I always urge people to do is ask questions,” he said. “The second recommendation is don’t engage the guy. I mean, come on, you only have so many breaths left in your life.”
LSA freshman Michael Smith said Shapiro’s talk gave a forum for students to learn about different sides of the political debate.
“I think a lot of people are riled up because of the recent political election,” he said. “But they don’t really take the time to look at the other side. If they did, it would moderate a lot of people’s heated opinions.”