Cal Poly braces for protest as College Republicans plan to host ‘rape culture’ denier

Lauren Southern
Lauren Southern

A month after Cal Poly hosted a series of events as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Cal Poly College Republicans plan to host a speaker who once said, “There is no rape culture in the West.”

Lauren Southern, a Canadian conservative-libertarian activist, onetime political candidate and self-published author of “Barbarians: How Baby Boomers, Immigrants and Islam Screwed My Generation,” is scheduled to speak from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday in room 286 of the Fisher Science building. The event is titled “Return of Traditional Women.”

Southern is part of a cadre of young, conservative provocateurs including Milo Yiannopoulos (who himself spoke at Cal Poly in January), Richard Spencer and Tomi Lahren. Vice News Canada labeled Southern as “the alt-right’s not-so-secret weapon.” She announced her Cal Poly speaking gig to her Twitter followers Sunday.

In a Facebook statement, the event organizers wrote, “The Cal Poly College Republicans will not stand by the wayside as people around the world are brutally attacked for their beliefs. We are proud of every event we have hosted in the past and to have brought such diverse, thought-provoking and politically incorrect individuals to campus. Our mission is to spark an open dialogue, and we look forward to continuing the pursuit of this mission.”

Right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos spoke at Spanos Theatre at Cal Poly on Tuesday, January 31, 2017, launching into his “No More Dead Babies” talk in front of a full house. Warning: Video contains adult language.

We are proud of every event we have hosted in the past and to have brought such diverse, thought-provoking and politically incorrect individuals to campus.

Cal Poly College Republicans

Neither Cal Poly College Republicans President Katherine Rueckert nor faculty adviser Brian Kennelly responded to the Tribune’s request for comment.

Playing host to Southern’s event does not mean the university shares her views, spokesman Matt Lazier said in a statement.

“As a public campus, Cal Poly is obligated to provide an open forum for a variety of opinions, thoughts and ideas — including those that some may find distasteful or offensive,” Lazier wrote. “Creating a campus environment free of censorship allows our students to hone their critical thinking skills by evaluating a spectrum of information and reaching informed and intelligent conclusions.”

Student Morgan Gutierrez disagreed with Cal Poly’s position and said hosting Southern so soon after Sexual Assault Awareness Month sends a bad message to students.

“Having somebody like this talk about what she’s going to talk about, when there are a bunch of survivors on campus and people who know survivors on campus, it’s very disheartening,” Gutierrez said.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college, with more than 90 percent of campus rapes going unreported to police.

By Tuesday afternoon, 110 people signaled their intent to participate in a “March Against Rape Culture” being held before Southern’s Thursday speech, with another 349 signaling interest in the event.

The march is being organized by several student groups, including Triota, the Queer Student Union, Students for Quality Education and the Cal Poly Democrats.

The protest is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. in front of the University Union, before marching to the Fisher Science building.

Lazier said safety is a primary concern for the university.

“As with any campus event, University Police have created a comprehensive plan to maintain a safe and secure campus during the Lauren Southern talk and associated planned march,” he said.

Unlike with the heavily publicized Yiannopoulos event, Lazier said the university doesn’t anticipate extensive security costs associated with Southern’s talk, adding that they wouldn’t be calculated until after the event.

Cal Poly and the California State University system spent more than $55,000 on extra security for the Yiannopoulos event in January, with 109 officers from seven agencies on hand for the event, which the university credited for its peaceful resolution.

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7929, @andrewsheeler

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune