Updated: Sept. 24, 2016 at 11:36 a.m.
I’m not writing this column to debate political correctness — or safe spaces, trigger warnings or censorship. Those topics are certainly worthy of discussion, but this is not the place. Rather, this column is about hate speech and its place — or lack thereof — on campus.
Milo Yiannopoulos, the technology editor at Breitbart News Network, is coming to speak at GW in late October. If you’ve never heard of Yiannopoulos, you’re not alone. Given Breitbart’s limited appeal to the alt-right and Yiannopoulos’ reputation as troll targeting women, ethnic minorities and religious groups, his fan base outside the far right is rather limited. I only heard about Yiannopoulos a month ago — some of his derogatory comments made headlines when he was banned from Twitter after a series of racist tweets in which he called actress Leslie Jones “barely literate” and referred to her as a man.
As terrible as Yiannopoulos’ attacks against Jones were, they’re only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the bigoted comments he has made. This man has described Black Lives Matter activists as goons, said that the Orlando shooter beat his ex-wife “as a good Muslim,” wrote that birth control makes women “slut[s]” and even declared that being transgender is a mental illness.
Despite all of the controversies, University spokesman Tim Pierce confirmed that the GW College Republicans scheduled Yiannopoulos to speak on campus. A student group invited him to campus to take a stand against “liberal anti-free speech policies,” following the events of Spring Fling last semester, according to the event’s page on Facebook, which says it is hosted by GW Students Against PC Culture. The organization said they were inspired to invite Yiannopoulos after Action Bronson, a rapper whose songs condone rape, was removed from the Spring Fling lineup, according to the Facebook event.
Yiannopoulos should be allowed to come to GW, but he shouldn’t be allowed to target minorities within our student population. Before Yiannopoulos comes, he should assure students and administrators that he will not actively engage in hate speech at GW.
Bringing a speaker to campus who defends free speech is admirable enough, as the protection of free speech is certainly necessary, but Yiannopoulos’ history of hate speech suggests that his appearance could very well spark bigotry and hatred among students. Why should the poster child for alt-right intolerance be allowed to come to campus and use the University as a platform to spew racist, sexist, Islamophobic and transphobic rhetoric?
No one can argue that bringing a speaker to campus who would normalize discrimination and bigotry will improve academic dialogue. His hateful speech will not promote education or diversity of thought but rather intimidate and spread ignorance. Although it is necessary to allow people to freely speak their minds, this does not extend “forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify hatred based on intolerance.” The freedom of speech allows for the exchanges of views that are necessary for a healthy academic environment. But that right must be properly balanced with the inherent dignity of all people and their right to engage on campus without fear of threats or hateful speech. Although Yiannopoulos has a general right to say what he wishes, he should not be able to incite hatred that makes students feel unsafe in their living and learning environment.
Proponents of unfiltered free speech often claim that they will defend the right for individuals to say what they wish, whether or not others agree. This argument brings to mind a quote by Oscar Wilde, who once wrote “I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.” While I agree with this argument’s intent, it certainly should have its limits.
It is in that spirit that I believe Yiannopoulos should be able come to campus. He should be able to say what he wants to say, and he should be able to publicly make a fool of himself. I will gladly defend his right to do so.
If, however, Yiannopoulos finds it too difficult to open his mouth without inspiring hatred against entire groups of students — if he refuses to agree to not engage in hate speech — then University administrators should not allow him to come to speak. Rather than being a blow to freedom of speech on campus, such a decision would reconfirm the University’s commitment to stem intolerance.
Stefan Sultan, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.