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Cal Poly administration cites free speech to objections over Milo Yiannopoulous visit

Flickr Creative Commons/@Kmeron
Milo Yiannopoulos speaking at the LeWeb13 Conference in London.

Conservative speaker and technology editor for Breitbart News, Milo Yiannopoulos, is coming to Cal Poly on January 31, a stop on his current U.S. tour of college campuses called the “Dangerous Faggot Tour.”

Cal Poly College Republicans president Katherine Rueckert says club officers invited Yiannopoulos to speak at the university. At Yiannopoulos’ events, he talks about current events in politics as well as controversial topics on college campuses.

[Clip of Yiannopoulos speaking on Islam: “One of the similarities between Islam and feminism, by the way, is that neither is satisfied until you either conform or die. This is a very classic character of authoritarian regimes.”] 

Rueckert says she thinks Yiannopoulos will bring a new perspective to campus.  

“He’s very entertaining. Personally I think he’s hilarious. Not everyone thinks he’s hilarious, obviously. But I think he’s an entertainer, he’s a performer, he has different views than maybe the majority of campus,” Rueckert said.  

A screenshot of Yiannopoulos' Dangerous Faggot Tour website.

Some students are worried about the visit, like Morgan G, who requested KCBX to use her last initial. She is the communication vice president of the Cal Poly Queer Student Union. Morgan says Yiannopoulos is not someone she wants influencing others on campus.

“He will generalize Muslims. He would say very insensitive things about lesbian-identified people. He would be very transphobic in his speeches and just recently in the tour that he’s bringing to this campus he had attacked a trans student," Morgan said.  

And when Morgan says “attacks,” she’s referring to Yiannopoulos’ visit to University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, where a trans student became the topic of discussion.

[Clip of Yiannopoulos speaking at UW Milwaukee:“Do you know about Justine Kramer? Have any of you, fallen, come into contact with this person? Quote unquote non-binary trans woman forced his way into the women’s locker room this year. Who knows about this story? Any of you?”]

Morgan says that the campus Queer Student Union doesn’t want to silence Yiannopoulos but rather to educate those who don’t know who he is and what he stands for.

This isn’t the first time an invited speaker has provoked controversy on campus. In 2009, author, journalism professor and sustainable food advocate Michael Pollan was scheduled to speak alone at Cal Poly.

That was until Harris Ranch Beef Chairman, David Wood sent an email to the previous Cal Poly president, Warren Baker. In the email, Wood expressed his disapproval of Pollan while also saying he was considering withdrawing a $500,000 donation for a campus meat processing facility. Administration later changed the event to a panel discussion, including other representatives from the conventional agricultural industry. Cal Poly said they wanted to represent alternate perspectives.

The university's director of media relations, Matt Lazier, says this is no longer the case. Because the university is under a different administration now, Lazier says, Cal Poly will not promote censorship in any form and cannot speak on behalf of the past administration.

On Wednesday, Cal Poly president Jeffrey Armstrong sent an email out to all students addressing concerns over Yiannopoulos, saying, “The real danger is not the expression of controversial voices - it is censorship and the restriction of free speech.”

Morgan says she’s unhappy with how the administration is handling Yiannopoulos’ visit, referring to administration’s response sent out prior to this week to those voicing concern. One part of the statement reads, quote: “Cal Poly's campus is an open environment where opinions, ideas and thoughts are freely shared, even those that I and others may find distasteful and offensive.”

“It felt like a cop-out honestly. I feel the way that administration has been handling everything that’s been happening on this campus hasn’t been very proactive. They will say things that will help people calm down, or oh if we send this it will just blow over and people will forget about it, but in the end nothing changes,” Morgan said.  

The club currently has no plans to protest, but there will be a protest outside of the event held by the group San Luis Obispo Anti-Racist Action. And on Thursday, the board of directors for People of Faith for Justice issued a statement, commenting on Yiannopoulos’ impending visit.

“Since Mr. Yiannopoulos delights in inciting protests and demonstrations, People of Faith for Justice encourages San Luis Obispo activists and those who would protest at [the campus'] Spanos Theater to stay away from his presentation,” the statement reads. “Instead, to use the time to reach out to a neighbor or someone you don’t know very well, inviting them to tea or dinner or just have a friendly conversation. Let’s practice our own right to free speech in quiet protest as we build bridges, not walls.”

College Republicans president Rueckert says there will be a question and answer time during the event–a usual component of Yiannopoulos’ tour.

“That’s what we’re doing we’re providing a platform for people who don’t know him or people who do or people who maybe dislike him to come and see what he has to say and hear it for themselves and then also to question it," Rueckert said. "They can ask questions, that’s why they have a Q and A period.”

The University of California Santa Barbara canceled his tour due to scheduling conflicts with Yiannopoulos’ staff. But in Davis, his scheduled visit was canceled due to threats of violence by protestors. And at the University of Washington, a shooting took place at a protest against the event.

This week a Yiannopoulos tour stop was canceled at UCLA. Bruin Republicans said in a statement they were "unable to accommodate the long list of requirements set forth by Milo’s team.”

The event at Cal Poly is sold out and there is a waiting list for a ticket to the free event. Yiannopoulis is set to visit UC Berkeley on February 1.

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