Milo Yiannopoulos’ now-infamous appearance on campus Tuesday night may have been shut down early, but its aftershocks are still settling throughout the DePaul community as students struggle reconcile ideologies, anger and fear.
The rally, which was cancelled after protesters took the stage about 15 minutes into an interview session with Yiannopoulos, came after weeks of tension following this week’s oil paint incident in the Quad and the so-called “chalkening” last month. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise, then, that the student body is caught between a messy jumble of opinions.
Alex Bednar, a freshman, said he joined the protest on the Quad spontaneously after reading through Yiannopoulos’ Twitter feed. He stayed with the protest group until Yiannopoulos left campus, an experience he described as being “chaotic.”
“It was almost hard to differentiate who was on which side, who was standing for what,” Bednar said. “It turned into a lot of vulgarity on both sides, chanting very mean speeches at each other.”
He said he thinks there should have been a better dialogue between the two parties involved, especially given the timing of the event.
“I do entirely believe in the freedom of speech and the idea that people are allowed to say and express their views in any context that they want,” Bednar said. “However, I also am a firm believer in timing and location. The example I had was that it’s kind of like how if someone wanted to make a World War II joke in a Holocaust museum, nothing is legally stopping you from saying that. But given the context of where you are, it’s probably not the best choice.”
For some, though, it’s difficult to justify shutting the event down. Sophomore Brock Pace, who was at the rally, said he likes the way Yiannopoulos pushes the boundaries of free speech — even though he doesn’t agree with most of the content of that speech – and hoped protesters would approach Yiannopoulos during the event’s designated question-and-answer session.
“I think the Q&A probably would have been moderated in a way that would skew toward Milo, but if people were going to do the whole protest thing and try to shut down the event, maybe they could have tried instead to have an actual dialogue about what he thinks,” Pace said, adding that he wishes he could have confronted Yiannopoulos about some of his more controversial opinions. “He’s said some terrible things that I don’t agree with that I could have talked to him about.”
Freshman Joey Traverso also said that he disagrees with the way the protest inside the rally was carried out, despite his dislike of Yiannopoulos’ message and rhetoric. He felt that by forcing the event to be cancelled, the protesters were misrepresenting the bulk of students who don’t support Yiannopoulos but still wanted to let him speak.
“The idea isn’t to silence people’s voices,” Traverso said. “Ultimately I think it’s an unfair representation of people who disagree with (Yiannopoulos’) point of views.”
Other students were upset and disappointed they didn’t get the chance to hear Yiannopoulos finish his talk. Freshman Brendan Howard is a member of College Republicans, the organization that planned and fundraised the event. He said he feels like DePaul was biased against his club’s conservative viewpoints, and that the school effectively “picked a side” by allowing the rally to be cancelled.
“We expected protests. I mean, there are videos of him speaking at other schools and that always happens,” Howard said. “But if that happens at other schools, security removes them. DePaul needs to stand by that and respect that this is a private event.”
Howard added that he thinks DePaul should pay for the charges incurred for the event by both the College Republicans and Yiannopoulos, who reportedly paid an extra $1000 in security fees.
“If we protested one of their events, we would be removed,” Howard said. “And we would expect that. I think that’s a reasonable expectation.”
And yet for some students, Yiannopoulos’ particular rhetoric seems to go beyond the realm of free speech. Daniella Mazzio, a junior, wasn’t at the event or the protest. She said she figured it would be similar to the March rally for presidential candidate Donald Trump at UIC – controversial, but not fully on her radar. But after watching several videos of its aftermath and hearing stories from friends and acquaintances, she said she finds it hard to dismiss Yiannoupolos’ words, as well as those of his supporters, as a mere exertion of First Amendment rights.
“It’s just really disconcerting and upsetting and kind of nauseating to hear (free speech) be the excuse or the pass to why this happened, and to fully put shame on the protesters,” Mazzio said. “I think you can make fair arguments that maybe the protest wasn’t carried out in the best way, but to completely silence them as you are saying you believe in free speech is the most appalling part of all of this.”
For others like Avery Cunningham, racially charged rhetoric has created a frightening situation. DePaul received reports of a noose found on campus Thursday.
“I was angry first. Then I was seized by a very deep fear,” Cunningham said. “I feared for my safety. (Coming from the south) I haven’t seen anything like this before.”
In an email sent out Wednesday afternoon, DePaul President Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M., called for exploring “underlying differences around race, gender and orientation that were made evident in yesterday’s events.” That kind of sentiment, reflective of a desire for an open dialogue between groups on campus, was reiterated by many students as a path forward.
“I think the major solution would be communication between all parties. That would include the College Republicans and the protesters and other groups of people that may be offended by it,” Bednar said. “Not social media dialogue, but actual dialogue between person, school and person.”
At this time, no official plans have been put into place as to how to execute this dialogue.
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