On Sept. 22, the Young Americans for Freedom chapter at the University of Michigan announced they were inviting Ben Shapiro to speak at the University of Michigan Rackham Graduate School on Nov. 15th. Shapiro, a divisive political commentator, has based his entire career on promoting extremely anti-abortion, transphobic, Islamophobic, homophobic, racist and misogynistic views, which are commonly surface-level understandings of race and sociology. His opinions, which include blaming critical race theory and the Black Lives Matter movement for America’s demise, have furthered division and hate across the nation.
We, the Ethical Investment Front, are a coalition of student leaders, organizers and community members brought together as an offshoot of the Students of Color Liberation Front, and we are concerned about Shapiro’s presence on campus. We urge the University’s Board of Regents and President Santa Ono to recognize the threat to safety that Shapiro’s presence holds and stop him from speaking at the University. His presence will only cause harm to our campus and communities in Ann Arbor and poses particular risk to students of Color, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, as well as those of other marginalized backgrounds.
This situation is regrettably reminiscent of when white supremacist and neo-Nazi Richard Spencer planned to speak at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University in 2018. Thanks to community organizing and the advocacy of the U-M Stop Spencer Campaign, the University community prevented Spencer from speaking. Similarly, the MSU Stop Spencer Campaign was able to get Spencer to speak to a smaller audience in a more isolated location, but violence and arrests still persisted. However, with a new administration comes inexperience, and any gaps in our commitment to justice and equity will allow bigoted speakers to come to campus.
While some argue that universities cannot deny free speech, universities, — including the University of Michigan — have historically maintained and/or exercised their right to turn away speakers due to high costs and an inability to ensure public safety. The costs associated with protecting speakers, students and community members at these types of events can approach six figures: When Milo Yiannopolous, another alt-right pundit, was invited to speak at the University of Washington in 2017, the cost of security totaled about $73,000.
It is incredibly fiscally and socially irresponsible to support a single speaker that has such a high capacity to cause harm to the campus community.
Richard Spencer’s planned visit to the University of Michigan in 2018 did not come to pass. At the time, the University had not committed to allowing Spencer to speak, citing a possible inability to “assure a reasonably safe setting for such an event.” Other universities like the University of Minnesota have successfully defended their venue changes or cancellations for speakers like Shapiro in court because of legitimate safety concerns. The same can be said for Ben Shapiro in 2022. Hosting a speaker like Shapiro calls into question the values of this university: Why does the University prioritize giving a platform to costly, hateful speakers over opportunities to directly support the students, staff, faculty and everyone impacted by bigots like Shapiro by ensuring our campus is a safe space?
To University President Santa Ono, this is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your commitment to listening to students, especially those on the margins. As you said earlier this year, “(m)y most important first job is to listen to the community. They understand what’s special about Michigan, and that has to inform what I’m going to do, even in the first year.” If you care about and are listening to the campus community, you will prevent Ben Shapiro from coming to campus. To the regents, some of whom were vocal about preventing Spencer at the University of Michigan in 2018, we ask that you advocate for the safety of all students and speak up against bigotry at our university. And to students, do not be silent on this issue. Make sure your peers, especially those targeted by Shapiro’s rhetoric, are safe and heard throughout this situation.
The Ethical Investment Front can be reached at email@example.com. If you are interested in joining our organizing efforts, please fill out this Google Form and we will be in contact shortly: tinyURL.com/EthicalInvestInterest
Editors’ note: A previous version of this incorrectly noted that the University had outright denied Richard Spencer’s request to speak in 2018, & that Spencer did not speak on Michigan State University’s campus.
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