Free Speech on College Campuses and NYU's College Republicans by President Michael DeLuca

*The following views do not necessarily reflect those of the College Democrats at NYU. They represent the ideas of only the author.*

 Photo by Diamond Naga Siu - see Washington Square News's coverage of the event  here .

Photo by Diamond Naga Siu - see Washington Square News's coverage of the event here.

As the debate over the role of free speech on college campus continues, it is becoming increasingly important to identify the role of student-run campus organizations in this discussion. Last night, punches were thrown and arrests were made in front of NYU’s Kimmel Center for University Life. These disturbing events occurred a day after protests at the University of California, Berkeley, turned violent and destructive on a night when Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at an event hosted by the Berkeley College Republicans.

So far this year, the NYU College Republicans have had their fair share of internal squabbles. They have neglected to engage in the presidential election in any substantive way. They have made headlines by inviting the most controversial speakers they could find to campus. The NYU College Republicans have become defined by their events that have been cancelled, and they have taken to praising themselves for fighting for free speech in the process.

Undoubtedly, protecting the right to free speech is essential. This is especially true when it involves challenging views that make us uncomfortable. In fact, there are very few cases where I would be comfortable with speech being regulated. In many ways, I acknowledge, this is a privileged position to occupy. At the same time, however, I believe friction and debate, even amidst absurd arguments, false claims, and extreme ideas, yield more refined and potent opinions. As a result, extremist ideas need not be prohibited by government. They may be driven out by people and by education. An engaged populace may shine a light on fraudulent ideas, ostracizing and excluding them into obsolescence.

But as the NYU College Republicans will be sure to remind you, the First Amendment guarantees, among other things, that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…or the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” The NYU College Democrats are equally proud of these fundamental freedoms (although I would submit we tend to be more concerned with extending them to all people). Still, the right to free speech is not absolute. The Supreme Court, in performing its duty to interpret the Constitution, has articulated instances where speech may be regulated. Indeed, the right to free speech may be limited when that speech constitutes:

  1. “Fighting words” meant to “incite an immediate breach of the peace” (Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942));
  2. Inciting speech that is "directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action” (Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969), Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919));
  3. Libel, slander, and so on.

Regardless, New York University is a private institution and has more leeway to regulate speech than would be the case at a public university or in the public forum. For example, in cancelling the NYU College Republicans’ October 2016 event featuring Milo Yiannopoulous for safety reasons, the NYU administration cited physical altercations on other campuses, harassment of community members, credible threats involving weapons, the event’s proximity to the Islamic Center, the LGBTQ Student Center, and the Center for Multicultural Education and Programs. It is not unlikely that this action by the NYU administration would have passed constitutional scrutiny anyway, if it were subject to it, considering Milo Yiannopoulous’s record of bigotry, harassment, and, most notably, incitement.

Perhaps if this event was permitted and these threats did not exist, Milo Yiannopoulous would have been exposed for the shabby hack that he is. As a result of the event’s cancellation, however, the NYU College Republicans were able to congratulate themselves for demonstrating that liberal universities in America don’t respect free speech or the diversity of ideas. Sadly, this implies Milo Yiannopoulous has real ideas and that the NYU College Republicans were interested in them. But after last night, the NYU College Republicans’ act is getting old.

The NYU College Republicans decided to host Gavin McInnes on the evening of February 2. I do not know what compelled them to do this. Gavin McInnes is often called sexist, misogynist, racist, nationalist, and other entirely accurate terms. However, it is useful to explore why he has earned these titles. Here are just a few of his statements from articles and interviews:

  • On Women:
    • “'No means no' is puritanism…I think Steinem-era feminism did women a lot of injustices, but one of the worst ones was convincing all these indie norts that women don't want to be dominated" (Source).
    • “Even fat, ugly, talentless hacks such as Leslie Jones are untouchable” (Source).
    • “So when I started getting laid, I did as I was told. Only that’s not what women want. They may like to pretend they’re just like dudes, and the The New York Times says they’re as sexually dominant as we are, but in my experience, they want to be taken. In fact, through trial and error, I learned they want to be downright abused. When I stopped playing nice and began totally defiling the women I slept with, the number of them willing to sleep with me went through the roof” (Source).
      • (note: in this article, McInnes employs the Italian-American equivalent of the n-word)
    • “A different candidate than she originally hoped for may bother her, but she needs to get over that. Women are generally worse at voting than men, but even if she’s a political-science PhD and he’s a retard, she should vote retard. If he vacillates from Dem to Republican, so should she. If he makes the wrong choice about who to vote for, she should do that with him. Military men move all over the world because they believe it’s best not just for their family but for America. Sometimes they’re stuck in Stuttgart for four years. We’ve been stuck with a single mom from Hawaii for almost eight” (Source).
    • “Feminism has made women less happy…Women are feigning that toughness. We've trivialized childbirth and being domestic so much that women are forced to pretend to be men. They're feigning this toughness, they're miserable” (Source).
  • On Race:
    • ''I love being white and I think it's something to be very proud of…I don't want our culture diluted. We need to close the borders now and let everyone assimilate to a Western, white, English-speaking way of life" (Source).
  • On Islam:
    • “Believe me, when Trump (or even Ted Cruz) wins the White House, I'll be dancing in the streets like a Muslim on 9/11” (Article, Interview).
  • On Sexual Assault:
    • “The problem with young feminists and college campuses in general is a total aversion to the truth. We have rule of law in this country. If you are raped, call the police. You owe it to the other victims to get this guy off the streets. If you ask for money in some kind of media-friendly sexual harassment suit, you are a prostitute. If you let it get handled within the parameters of the university, you are almost as cowardly as the women who make it up.” (Source)
  • On Extremism:
    • “Every time I get face-to-face with someone in the SPLC’s ‘Extremist Files,’ I meet a reasonable man with a philosophy that is, at the very least, arguable.” (Source)
      • (note that the SPLC’s list, just to cite one of the less disturbing examples, includes Alex Jones of InfoWars.com, a Sandy Hook and 9/11 truther)

When it becomes apparent how grotesque this individual is, we must ask not whether he can come to NYU for a student-run event, but what sort of organization would give this language and these ideas a platform?

Apparently, the NYU College Republicans. They have invited such guests repeatedly and shamelessly. In their official statement after the evening concluded, they refer to Gavin McInnes as an “opposing speaker.” They say that the purpose of the event was “to promote free speech” and that the purpose of the club is to “give students the opportunity to meet and listen to conservative speakers.” First, he is not an “opposing speaker.” He is a hate monger, and it is an insult to principled conservatives to call him “conservative.” Honestly, it is shameful to do anything other than outright condemn his views in the strongest of terms, and that has nothing to do with politics. However, the College Republicans maintain that they “do not endorse the views of all speakers and guests.” They claim that protestors “did not know what they were protesting.” I know many of the protestors, and I know they knew why they were protesting. But in case anyone’s reasons were unclear, I provided citations.

The College Republicans’ justification for hosting these speakers is that NYU students should be “more open to ideas that are different from their own.” And so I ask the leadership of the NYU College Republicans - to what ideas are you referring? Perhaps McInnes’s ideas that Muslims celebrated 9/11, women enjoy being abused, or that individuals deemed extremists by the Southern Poverty Law Center have views that are “arguable”?

I do not doubt the NYU College Republicans’ ability to host these speakers, nor their right to do so in the absence of security threats, but I am exasperated by their motives. There is a difference between what can be done and what should be done which they have utterly failed to appreciate. Their justifications for giving hatred a platform and an audience are flimsy and pathetic.

If it is the NYU College Democrats that you are referring to when you say NYU students should be open to ideas different from our own, surely you’re forgetting that in 4 days we will be participating with you in a multi-party discussion on Trump’s recent actions on immigration and refugees?

Protests must remain peaceful, or else we sacrifice our values. But resistance will continue as long as it needs to. And the NYU College Republicans should make an honest attempt at engaging, instead of continuing this shameful charade. Look around - look at all the peaceful protests of the past several weeks, the investigative journalism that uncovers new evidence of Trump’s unconstitutional and illegal actions each day, and the NYU Muslim Students Association, surrounded and supported by members of other faiths, praying publicly in Washington Square Park. Of all our rights, isn’t it clear that the freedoms of speech and expression are alive and thriving? Perhaps you may find something to do other than invite bigots to NYU purely for the sake of being controversial.

Last night, the NYU College Democrats cohosted an event with a new club on campus - Voices for Planned Parenthood - and FemmeCare, an initiative by NYU arts students dedicated to removing the stigma on menstruation and helping the women of NYC. We celebrated the accomplishments of female artists, discussed opportunities for activism, and collected hundreds of feminine hygiene products that will be donated to a women’s homeless shelter. We are proud of every guest that we host, the work that we do, and the causes we advocate. Despite these trying times, it is always helpful to know that we are on the right side of the barricades.

Please check our Resources page for organizations that are fighting to achieve equality and justice.

Please check our Events page to see some of the people we’re proud to be hosting this year.

NYU College Democrats