Petitions have been signed and protests planned in the wake of controversial conservative personality Milo Yiannopoulos’ arrival at DePaul later this month.
After a ‘chalking’ incident where the DePaul College Republicans wrote endorsements for Republican presidential candidates near the Lincoln Park Student Center, the group started a GoFundMe page to raise money to bring Yiannopoulos to DePaul.
According to the GoFundMe page, the College Republicans hope the event will “Make DePaul Great Again,” and that the university is in “serious need of a wake-up call.”
The fundraising efforts raised $1,170 out of the $3,000 requested to bring Yiannopoulos to DePaul, but according to the event’s Facebook page, it was enough to make it official.
Activists against the event soon after started a Change.org petition, requesting the university cancel Yiannopoulos’ appearance.
“The problematic and xenophobic statements and ideologies promoted by Milo Yiannopoulos are outraging,” the petition reads. “He perpetuates the dangerous systems of oppression that exist in our world and, as a result, on our campus.”
This petition currently has 376 out of the 500 signatures requested to present to DePaul President Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M., who, according to the page, refused a personal request to cancel the event because he did not “share the same level of concern as you for the well-being of our students if they are exposed to this spectacle.”
But Ryan Ballow, member of the DePaul College Republicans, said he does not think the petition will make any difference.
“I don’t think online petitions do a whole lot these days in general,” he said. “Before you had to go door-to-door to gain support and actually put in hard work to show that you really believe in something.”
In response to the petition, a counter-petition was created asking DePaul to provide students with “pacifiers and/or milk and cookies,” and has received 39 out of 100 requested signatures.
“The one petition calling for pacifiers for the protesters is obviously a joke, and there was already protests expected, so I don’t think the petitions have much effect other than publicizing the event,” Ballow said.
The petition calling for the event to be cancelled states that Yiannopoulos is promoting “hate speech.”
But Ari Cohn, attorney with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), said this speech still falls within the rights of the First Amendment.
“Legally speaking there is no difference between hate speech and free speech,” he said. “Hate speech is protected under the First Amendment the same as any other speech. Just because he might say things that are very offensive to some, it’s no reason to bar his appearance.”
Ballow said the confusion between hate speech and free speech is part of why Yiannopoulos’ visit is important to DePaul students.
“The fact that people call this hate speech is a joke,” he said. “If it was so-called hate speech, he wouldn’t be allowed to speak at DePaul in the first place. Milo has facts that back up his arguments and people are being offended by those facts. Simple as that.”
In response to the event, a protest, called “Don’t Feed the Trolls,” has also been planned.
Cohn said he is familiar with Yiannopoulos and said this is usually expected when he speaks on a college campus.
“Part of the intellectual development of being in college is confronting ideas with free speech, more speech and using your own ideas to make a difference,” he said. “A lot of students, when they’re opposing Yiannopoulos’ visits, they say the things he says in these speeches are deeply offensive to their beliefs and even their identity. That may well be true, but being offensive is not reason to cut off the debate and cut off speech.”
Cohn said it’s important to have your ideas challenged on a college campus, as this has led to advocacy like the Civil Rights Movement and the LGBT Rights Movement.
“I think that a college campus of all places has to be the place that we can express and explore and even fight about controversial issues,” he said. “If we cut off that dialogue and say that some speech is not okay we miss a great opportunity to start developing those things. We miss ideas we might have not have otherwise found. That’s the danger of restricting speech on the basis of what’s offensive.”
Ballow said the College Republicans created the event to give some real-world lessons to those too used to a politically correct society.
“After the overreaction of the chalking by students and faculty, we realized we need to show people that the real world isn’t PC (politically correct), and things that they have heard from PC-ridden places are lies,” he said.
Yiannopoulos is scheduled to speak at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 24, in the DePaul Student Center Rooms 120 A and B. The protest is scheduled for 5 p.m. the same day at the Father Egan statue.