The scheduled visit of a controversial speaker to Cal Poly next month as part of a national tour of college campuses has drawn growing criticism from student activists who believe the Cal Poly College Republicans is inviting a “white supremacist Nazi” on campus, according to a Facebook post.
But organizers of Milo Yiannopoulos’ visit say they want an open exchange of ideas and appreciate the conservative firebrand’s style of flouting political correctness.
Yiannopoulos, a gay British journalist and editor with right-wing website Breitbart News, is one of the leading voices of the “alt-right” movement, an offshoot of conservatism that mixes populism and white nationalism with aggressive online activism.
His nationwide college speaking tour, titled “Dangerous Faggot,” includes visits to UC Davis, UCLA, UCSB and UC Berkeley in January and February. He is scheduled to speak at Cal Poly on Jan. 31.
Do we have any lesbians? I’ve always wanted to know, are you fat because you’re a lesbian or a lesbian because you’re fat?
titled “Fat Shaming Works”
The Cal Poly Queer Student Union has posted an appeal on Facebook calling for students to email the Cal Poly College Republicans’ faculty adviser, whom they’re criticizing for not stepping in to shut down the upcoming talk by Yiannopoulos, although it was club members who invited Yiannopoulos.
Yiannopoulos, who denies being a white supremacist, has made statements that his critics say align him with racial bigotry.
He has said that Muslims are prone to violence, radicalism and gang rape and has called for efforts to block Muslim immigration into the United States.
“Everywhere in America, you can see the signs that an alien culture, dedicated to the destruction of the West, is making its presence felt,” he said in his “Rally for America” speech at UC Irvine in October, according to Breitbart News.
He has created a “Yiannopoulos Privilege Grant” scholarship that’s available exclusively to white men, though the website says “applications are not yet open.”
The Queer Student Union said in a statement this past week that it will do everything it can to prevent his ideas from being “normalized or socially accepted.”
“Milo’s attacks on Muslims, Latinos, communities and other ethnicities and religions deemed nonwhite and ‘other’ by Milo put him on to the spectrum of white supremacy — whether he identifies as one or not,” said Mick Bruckner, a Cal Poly Queer Student Union member. “His claims are predicated on the false idea that the United States was ever by default white. His fears are literally rooted in the maintenance of keeping white folks in power throughout our country.”
The group added in its statement: “The Cal Poly College Republicans are bringing him to campus not solely because they believe in his right to speak, the phrase that the club will always jump to, but primarily because they actually believe the ideas Milo stands for.”
Cal Poly College Republicans, however, say they invited Yiannopoulos because they appreciate his fight against political correctness.
“Milo is a leading critic of the systematic censorship found on college campuses,” Republican club President Katherine Rueckert said. “Many individuals think that his ‘politically incorrect’ speech is refreshing. He has struck a chord that resonates with young people, which has contributed to his rise in popularity.”
Yiannopoulos’ visit has also prompted a Change.org petition, started by Santa Margarita resident Heidi Petersen, who urges Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong to change the format of the talk to a panel discussion to offer different points of view without limiting free speech.
The petition says the university similarly altered a talk by food writer Michael Pollan, originally scheduled for a solo speaking event in 2009, into a panel discussion at the request of Harris Ranch Beef.
As of Friday, about 1,000 people had signed the petition.
Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier said “the university is aware of the petition. Mr. Yiannopoulos is being brought to campus by the College Republicans club. His appearance and how he expresses himself is not something the university can dictate. As a public campus, Cal Poly has a responsibility to uphold free speech and provide an open forum for a variety of opinions, thoughts and ideas.”
Club adviser targeted
As part of its opposition, the Queer Student Union has targeted club adviser Brian Kennelly and on Sunday posted a photo of him with a message saying, “My name is Brian Kennelly. I’m the adviser for the CP College Republicans. I’m also bringing the white supremacist Nazi, Milo Yiannopoulos, to campus.” It provided his email and urged people to contact him to share their views.
Kennelly said that he has received “emails and phone calls” in the wake of the Facebook post, “some of them negative and many of them positive.”
The point of bringing any speaker to campus is to allow students to hear opinions that may differ from their own. This is what we should be encouraging on our campus: engaging each other in civil dialogue.
Katherine Rueckert, president of the Cal Poly Republicans Club
But Kennelly told The Tribune he’s troubled by the post, saying it has created a “hostile working environment.”
“I realize that the student club that I advise has invited a speaker who might upset others,” Kennelly said. “That’s a small price to play for exposing different points of view and worldviews and ways of looking at things. The most bothersome to me is that I’m an adviser. I didn’t invite the person.”
He said he didn’t feel the need to intervene in the students’ coordination of the talk, calling it a free speech issue while saying he’s aware of the growing backlash and has reached out to Cal Poly administrators to warn them of the potential for a heated protest.
“It’s upsetting, and I’ve actually met with Cal Poly’s chief of staff to the president and Title IX officer,” Kennelly said.
Lazier said that “the university is aware of (the Facebook post) but in examining it has found nothing that isn’t protected by free speech.”
Rueckert said the backlash and accusations of white supremacy are “the opinion of a select group of individuals, which reinforces why people don’t trust the media. People are entitled to their own views. We encourage individuals to come to his talk and make their own decisions instead of assuming things based on what the media has covered.”
Who is Yiannopoulos?
Yiannopoulos, who openly supports President-elect Donald Trump and Israel, is a vocal critic of feminism, Islam, social justice and other ideologies.
In a YouTube clip of one of his speaking events, Yiannopoulos uses an expletive, saying “f--- you” to denounce a student who accused him of being a white supremacist.
In other YouTube clips, Yiannopoulos takes on women’s issues, saying that female sexuality “is much more malleable and much more flexible (than male sexuality).”
Milo’s attacks on Muslims, Latinos, communities and other ethnicities and religions deemed nonwhite and ‘other’ by Milo put him on to the spectrum of white supremacy — whether he identifies as one or not.
Mick Bruckner, Cal Poly Queer Student Union
“Women who sleep with women tend to have had relationships with men as well,” Yiannopoulos said in one clip. “... I don’t entirely believe in lesbians.”
In another clip, titled “Fat Shaming Works,” he asks the audience “Do we have any lesbians? I’ve always wanted to know, are you fat because you’re a lesbian or a lesbian because you’re fat?”
Yiannopoulos was banned from Twitter after leading a harassment campaign against “Ghostbusters” actress and “Saturday Night Live” comedian Leslie Jones, which included his followers tweeting racist and sexist slurs at the comedian.
He has also accused Muslims of having a penchant for violence: “Muslims can’t get along with anyone. They can’t even get along with each other.”
January’s visit isn’t the first time the Cal Poly College Republicans tried to bring Yiannopoulos to San Luis Obispo.
They also invited him to speak at Cal Poly last spring, but the visit fell through. They were able to secure a date for his talk this academic year.
“The point of bringing any speaker to campus is to allow students to hear opinions that may differ from their own,” Rueckert said “This is what we should be encouraging on our campus: engaging each other in civil dialogue.”
He’s willing to ask questions that are uncomfortable. Some students don’t feel safe to ask those questions because of things like political correctness.
Brian Kennelly, Cal Poly College Republicans faculty adviser
Kennelly, who is gay, said he has rallied on behalf of gay rights and is willing to defend students who face discrimination. He said he believes Cal Poly is properly allowing free speech and an exchange of ideas on its campus now more than it ever has under the current administration.
“(Yiannopoulos) is willing to ask questions that are uncomfortable,” Kennelly said. “Some students don’t feel safe to ask those questions because of things like political correctness.”
For their part, Lazier said Cal Poly officials are carefully monitoring “social media and mainstream media coverage of the speaker’s other events and understand there is the potential for protest activity surrounding the Jan. 31 event at Cal Poly.”
“The university takes this matter very seriously, and University Police is working with the Dean of Students Office, Student Affairs leaders and others to determine how best to address the issue and focus on the priority of keeping the campus community safe,” Lazier said. “Those discussions are ongoing, and decisions are still being made. More details will be available closer to the event date.”