Young Americans for Liberty plans to bring Milo Yiannopoulos to UB
Club organizes controverisal speaker to come to campus, questions of free speech raised
When Milo Yiannopoulos spoke at Rutgers University in February, some students stood in protest and smeared fake blood on themselves.
Yiannopoulos, a British journalist for conservative American news site Breitbart, is known for his outspokenness and controversial positions on several topics like feminism and gay rights. He may now be coming to UB.
Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), a Student Association club, is planning to bring Yiannopoulos to campus this May to speak to students about the right to free speech. The SA Senate recently granted YAL $759 for the event and the Special Interests, Services and Hobbies Council gave the club an additional $300.
Yiannopoulos, who is gay, is currently on his “Dangerous Faggot Tour” speaking at college campuses across the country. His talk at Rutgers was the first stop on the tour and was organized by Rutgers’ own YAL group. UB is not currently listed as a stop on Yiannopoulos’ tour.
YAL Vice President Gary Kenney said although he can “see how [Yiannopoulos’ comments on certain topics] can be alarming and cause controversy,” the reason YAL is bringing him to campus is to discuss the matter of free speech and restrictions of free speech on university campuses.
Club members say they have the funding in place, a date set and a room reserved, but are just working to finalize the visit with Yiannopoulos.
Dan Giles, a former UB student and state chair for YAL’s national organization, said Yiannopoulos is more than likely to come speak at UB.
“Unless we get shut down, which I honestly don’t see happening because we’ve gone through all the right channels,” Giles said.
Giles said Yiannopoulos waived his speaking fee.
Although the senate approved funding for Yiannopoulos’ visit, at least one senator is opposed.
Gabi Cohen, an SA senator and junior environmental design major, said although she believes in free speech, Yiannopoulos’ views denounce the UB community’s rights for a safe space on campus.
“The Student Association allocating $750 dollars to have a sexist, racist, transphobic, and homophobic speaker come to UB is in breach of your safe space,” Cohen wrote in an op-ed submitted to The Spectrum.
Cohen said she was not present at the senate vote, so she wasn’t sure the exact number of votes for or against funding the event, however she believed only one person voted against it. She said by not being there, it may be seen as a “huge issue” since she is “speaking on an issue [she] wasn’t present for.”
Cohen said people will not always be happy with how SA’s $4 million budget of student funds is spent, but she does not want people to look back upon Yiannopoulos speaking at UB and wonder why SA funded someone who they don’t agree with.
SA Treasurer Joe Pace said the SA executive board does not enforce who SA clubs can and can’t bring to UB, and that since the senate awarded the money to YAL, that is “their prerogative.”
“We enforce policies from SA, the university and SUNY in everything for all clubs,” Pace said. “So if contracts need to be signed, those go through the same review process for everyone whether we like the person or not, just like if a club is trying to book an artist we think is crap, it doesn’t actually matter as long as they’re following the rules and regulations that are stipulated in all of the different policies that they need to adhere to.”
SA President Minahil Khan said the only time the e-board would step in and not uphold money granted to a club from the senate is when the club is violating SA rules.
YAL is currently only a temporary club, but Khan said SA has set the precedent this year that the senate can provide funding to temporary clubs.
Cohen admits Yiannopoulos is a “provocateur” who says things to get a reaction out of people. And although Cohen said she understands it’s an issue of free speech, she thinks Yiannopoulos uses that right to speak in hate.
Matthew Casa, president of YAL, said he and the rest of the club are disappointed that students opposed to Yiannopoulos coming to UB have not contacted YAL to discuss their qualms. He said the club wants students to approach them with opposing viewpoints on the subject to hold a discussion.
“We love alternative viewpoints, we’re very open to that,” Casa said. “We try to remain as inclusive as possible … This is exactly what we want. We want people to address these issues, we want people to talk to us, and we’ll be happy to respond to them.”
Giles said he thinks people see Yiannopoulos as controversial because he says things that are “tongue in cheek because he wants to get a conversation started.”
YAL Vice President Gary Kenney said although he doesn’t believe in “90 percent” of Hillary Clinton’s policies, he attended Clinton’s UB Distinguished Speakers Series talk in 2013. He said he wanted to hear what she had to say.
Cohen said although she doesn’t know whether or not UB students will react to Yiannopoulos the same way they did at Rugters, she hopes they will protest in some way.
She said by students speaking out in protest, it is their form of free speech. Giles said that there is a possibility of protests similar to those at Rutgers if Yiannopoulos speaks at UB, but that it is part of the “speech process.”
Cohen said ultimately her biggest concern is the issue of “safe spaces.”
“Anywhere you are on this campus, you should feel safe, and him coming totally eradicates anything that a safe space is,” she said. “Whether you’re a woman, or a man, or any type of person that you are, he is probably against something that you stand up for.”
Giles said there is no point of an institution if there is no space to hear opposing viewpoints. Casa said he respects the notion of a safe space, but this event could be seen as a safe space for YAL and students with similar beliefs.
Both Kenney and Casa said allowing a “greater discussion” about free speech is ultimately what they want to bring to campus by having Yiannopoulos speak. Casa said students don’t need to necessarily agree with everything Yiannopoulos says, but they should be open to learning opposing viewpoints.
“It’s not very common that you’re going to hear something from someone and that you’re going to agree with [it] 100 percent of the time, and we don’t think it should be like that, and we don’t think people should be limited to hearing things that they think are 100 percent correct,” Casa said. “We want to add in alternative viewpoints and we want people to realize there are other sides to the story, that there are alternative ways of thinking and there are people out there who think differently.”