PC Culture

Stanford Students: Ben Shapiro Speaking on Campus Puts People ‘At Risk’

Cyclists traverse the main quad on Stanford University’s campus in Stanford, California (Beck Diefenbach/Reuters)
This argument is disingenuous and based on false assumptions and incorrect definitions.

A  group of Stanford University students claimed that having conservative commentator Ben Shapiro on campus to give a speech would put people “at risk.”

The group — which calls itself the Coalition of Concerned Students — made the claim on a flyer advertising a “silent rally” to protest Shapiro’s Stanford College Republicans–sponsored speech, which took place on November 7.

“WE are tired of Stanford Administration’s complicity in putting Black, Brown, Trans, Queer and Muslim students at risk by allowing SCR to bring Ben Shapiro to campus,” states the flyer, a copy of which was obtained by Campus Reform.

“WE do not protest because we are too sensitive to hear opinions we don’t like,” the flyer continues. “WE protest because we are strong enough to defend ourselves.”

The flyer also asks participants to “wear black if possible” and features a graphic of what looks like bug spray — with the title “Ben B Gon” — with images of both bugs and Shapiro’s face on the bottle.

(Note: The Stanford Review, the school’s “independent newspaper,” published an editorial calling on the coalition to stop using the graphic, claiming that it was “a play on anti-Semitic tropes about extermination,” because Shapiro is Jewish.)

The coalition also wrote an op-ed that appeared in Stanford’s official student newspaper, The Stanford Daily, further explaining its opposition to the speech.

“Another year of Stanford’s administration refusing to listen to its marginalized students as we beg the institution to stop providing a platform for fascist talking heads to stand upon,” it states. “Another year of disappointment, but not surprise, as the administration continues to confound the values of open discourse and the perpetuation of unchallenged violent speech.”

“By repeatedly inviting speakers who incite violence against some of Stanford’s most marginalized communities, the administration actively sends the message that only certain students, communities, and types of dialogue are valued on this campus,” it continues.

Now, I will be the first to say that I do not agree with Shapiro on many issues. For example: As a libertarian, I couldn’t agree less with his social conservatism. In fact, my disagreements with him have even, at times, gone beyond simple policy disputes. He has also made several statements — such as the time he said (in column he wrote when he was 18) that he isn’t concerned about civilian casualties in war, a truly horrific take for which he later apologized — that I have found to be absolutely offensive and upsetting.

But guess what? I still think that the Coalition of Concerned Students is being absolutely ridiculous.

To be clear, I have no issue with the students’ peaceful protest. That is their right, and I would never, ever deny that. Where I do have an issue, though, is the charge that Shapiro coming to campus to talk amounts to putting anyone “at risk” whatsoever.

Make no mistake: That claim is absurd. Truly, that’s not even just my opinion; it’s a fact. After all, Shapiro’s speech was over and done with by the end of last week, and to my knowledge, exactly no one has died (or even suffered a paper cut) because of it. Yep — a guy on campus talking, it turns out, actually didn’t present any real danger to anyone.

The truth of the matter is, “uncomfortable” does not equal “unsafe,” and “disagreement” does not equal “danger.” This is objectively true — the pairs of words mean objectively different things — and yet, it’s become common for people on the Left (particularly on college campuses) to ignore this reality. After all, the members of the Coalition of Concerned Students are hardly the only people to have made this kind of charge. In fact, in my years reporting on political correctness, some of the other things I’ve seen declared to be “unsafe” or “dangerous” or “violent” include: plans to have a petting-zoo camel for a campus “Hump Day” event (its presence would, apparently, be so racist against Middle Eastern students that it would be “possibly unsafe” for anyone to attend), the word “bullet” (no, not actual bullets, but the word itself), Bill Maher, not having a solo in a college burlesque performance, and talking about guns, to name a few.

It’s truly disturbing that a trend so patently stupid could ever have become one in the first place, and yet, here we are. Far too many people believe that they are owed some kind of “safe space” from opposing ideas, and the fact is, that just isn’t true — and we shouldn’t allow people to say that it is true without correcting them.

The point, of course, in using words such as “dangerous” or “unsafe” to describe someone’s speech is to try and have a better chance of silencing it. After all, saying that something is going to cause people real harm — or put them “at risk” — sounds like a better argument for canceling something than its being simply “offensive” or “distasteful.” The problem? This argument is disingenuous and based on false assumptions and incorrect definitions. The problem, in short, is that it’s wrong — and we sane people simply cannot allow this kind of lunacy to cloud the conversation. After all, both speech and safety are too important to talk about in ways that are not consistent with reality and truth.

This story was previously covered in an article in Campus Reform.

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