After UB announced that it would not cancel conservative commentator Michael Knowles’ on-campus speech, some students say they are unhappy with the decision and will protest the event outside Slee Hall, where Knowles is set to speak Thursday evening.
Knowles, a host at The Daily Wire, has drawn national and local criticism after delivering a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in which he said that “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely.”
“Any direct interaction with Knowles is only going to lead to him finding some way to make the community look ridiculous; to try and belittle us and any argument we make,” Talia Wright, a freshman biochemistry major, said. “It’s better to protest and advocate for trans people as a whole and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, in a positive way.”
Jennifer Torres, a freshman aerospace engineering major, is hoping that the protest will show unity for the transgender community at UB.
“I hope that many people will show up to the protest. This will be a sign of unity on the campus, despite opposition, despite people who state we don’t belong and that we should not exist, despite that — we won,” Torres said. “We choose to represent and stand together regardless of what we’re facing.”
Campus Living will be holding a peaceful protest march from the Blake Center in the Ellicott Complex to Slee Hall. OUTpatient and UB LGBTA are holding an LGBTQIA+ dance party in the Student Union lobby during the speech, and UB LGBTA is also hosting tabling events in SU Thursday.
Still, some students have reservations about a public protest.
“My biggest concern is that a public protest could turn violent fast,” Samantha Syracuse, a sophomore psychology major, said. “I completely support pushing back against this event, but a protest seems risky. To me, this man is way too far gone to be reasoned with, and things could easily turn into a shouting match where he uses that to twist an argument or a fight breaks out.”
Other students have taken additional measures outside of these organized events to protest the speech.
One anonymous UBReddit post stated that some students reserved up to 20 tickets for Knowles’ speech and were not planning on showing up.
According to YAF’s Eventbrite, “A ticket does not guarantee entry and is revocable,” YAF’s Eventbrite page reads. “Any unclaimed seats will be given to those in the standby line up to 15 minutes prior to the event start.”
An open letter to UB President Satish Tripathi addressed the university’s decision to let Knowles speak in an email to the campus community Tuesday, writing that UB “must support the constitutionally protected democratic principles of the First Amendment.”
The Spectrum spoke to students who said they were “disappointed” and “unimpressed” with the email.
“I really don’t think it’s productive at all because we’ve been hearing the same message over and over again. It hasn’t achieved anything besides just making the university look good,” Julian Livingston, a sophomore psychology major, said. “Inviting controversial figures is something that keeps happening, and it’s going to continue happening unless something changes.”
Last spring semester, YAF invited former congressman and conservative pundit Allen West to campus to give a speech titled “America is not Racist.” West’s visit prompted student protests.
Livingston wishes that the email would’ve included resources for transgender students, to make them feel safe and advocated for.
Inviting Knowles to the campus doesn’t give Livingston a “good feeling about the UB community.”
“It’s really tiring and exhausting to see our rights being debated by people who couldn’t care less about us and while I am thankful for our allies who are standing up and speaking for us and for our safety, I also find it really important that we ourselves as trans individuals step up,” Torres said. “At the end of the day, we are the ones who are directly being hurt by this, and we can’t go out silently… we have to fight.”
Torres asks for allies of the transgender community to show up to the protest.
“Join us and just live with us — exist with us — on Thursday and show your support because that visibility will help make a difference,” Torres said.
Victoria Hill is the senior news editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org