The Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) received a “steady stream” of calls, emails and contact forms regarding conservative commentator Michael Knowles’ speech slated for this Thursday, according to EDI Director Sharon Nolan-Weiss.
The majority of callers have asked the university to cancel the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) event following a speech Knowles made at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Saturday in which he called for “transgenderism” to be “eradicated from public life entirely.”
Many on social media implored Western New Yorkers to call EDI and stop Knowles’ appearance at UB.
“Tell them it isn’t free speech to call for eradicating an entire group of people, which includes members of their own community,” Our City Action Buffalo, a coalition of community-based organizations, said in an Instagram post Sunday. “Tell UB that in addition to canceling the event, they should put out a statement to affirm their trans and gender non-conforming students.”
EDI has also received communications advocating for the event to move forward.
Nolan-Weiss stated that EDI doesn’t have the personnel to individually respond to each telephone call, but they are responding to UB students, faculty and staff who contacted the office through email or forms.
“EDI recognizes the feelings of pain, betrayal, and a lack of safety that so many members of our community feel as a result of the YAF event,” Nolan-Weiss said in an email to The Spectrum. “UB has been consistently expanding measures for transgender inclusion in our policies, activities and resources, from incorporating chosen names and pronouns, to providing support through LGBTQ+ campus organizations, to adding all gender washrooms across campus, and we will continue to develop measures to promote inclusion for our transgender community in the days, months and years after Mr. Knowles has left our campus for his next speaking engagement. One speaker does not have the power to change our efforts and our commitment, which will persist.”
Controversial speakers are allowed to give speeches at UB, even if the views of the speaker, or content of the speech is hurtful or demeaning, UB said in a statement Sunday.
Nolan-Weiss said that there is a “widespread misperception” that hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment. UB considers guidance such as that provided by the U.S Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
The OCR states that in order to establish a hostile environment, harassment must be sufficiently serious as to limit or deny a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program. As such, OCR wouldn’t determine that an optional student-sponsored event would create a hostile environment, giving UB grounds to disallow students from hosting the event on campus.
Nolan-Weiss believes that the community can still use their own speech to “uphold our values and support those in our community who are most affected by their vitriol.”
“Hateful and dehumanizing rhetoric is an affront to everything our community embraces,” UB President Satish Tripathi said in an email to the UB community Tuesday. “To all those who are disenfranchised, marginalized and persecuted, including our transgender community, please know that we support you, and we will continue to uphold UB’s cherished values of diversity, equity and inclusion to ensure that the university remains a safe and welcoming place for you.”
Kiana Hodge is a news editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org