The Democrats of Cal Poly have withdrawn from a panel discussion on fake news due to the inclusion of a speaker who believes white people are genetically more intelligent than black people.
Event organizers have criticized the Cal Poly Republicans’ decision to invite Bill Whittle, a Los Angeles-based conservative commentator, to participate in a Tuesday event sponsored by Associated Students Inc. called “Fake News Panel: What is it and who decides.”
Whittle has said there is “a Muslim invasion” of Europe and advances the idea that black and Hispanic people are genetically less intelligent than white and Asian people.
“This action is in response to the College Republicans’ invitation of a panelist who routinely publishes racist and Islamophobic commentary. We condemn these statements as false and hateful and stand in solidarity with the individuals and communities they affect,” Sebastian Hamirani, spokesman for the college Democrats, wrote in an email statement.
The event originally was sponsored by the Democrats of Cal Poly, the Cal Poly College Republicans, Associated Students Inc., the Dean of Students Office, the League of Women Voters of San Luis Obispo County and the university’s College of Liberal Arts and journalism department.
Whittle’s beliefs, sometimes called “race realism” or “scientific racism,” have roots in the white supremacist movement and are not accepted by the broader scientific community.
Whittle is the most recent controversial speaker sought by the college Republicans, who in 2017 invited alt-right firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos and “traditional woman” conservative activist Lauren Southern to speak on campus, each time drawing protest.
Whittle was to be one of five speakers, along with journalist Alicia Shepard and BBC News producer Sue Mitchell, former Tribune publisher and Cal Poly spokesman Chip Visci and Democratic consultant Cory Black.
Black has since withdrawn from the panel, and did so prior to The Tribune’s original story on the controversy surrounding Whittle, according to Hamirani.
Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier said that Mitchell has also withdrawn from the panel, though Lazier said he “would be reluctant to comment on her motivations.” Mitchell could not be reached for comment.
Though Mitchell was a featured guest of the Cal Poly journalism department, the department itself remains an event co-sponsor. The department released a statement Wednesday saying that “as journalists —and especially as journalism educators — we support the First Amendment and its five freedoms. They are the bedrock of our democracy.”
“Our continued support for (the panel) is not an endorsement of the panelist selected by the College Republicans. It is an endorsement of civil discourse, something we value highly,” the statement added.
Neither the League of Women Voters nor the Cal Poly College Republicans responded to request for comment by deadline.
In an email statement Tuesday, Republican club president Katherine Rueckert said her group chose Whittle “because of his ability to engage in civilized, thought-provoking discussions.”
Hamirani pointed out that Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeanne Ives, running to unseat Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, canceled Whittle’s planned keynote speech at a campaign fundraiser after Whittle’s inflammatory views became known.
“It is important to discuss disagreements,” Hamirani wrote. “However, there are views so odious that they do not deserve the credibility brought by a seat at the discussion table.”
In a Wednesday statement, Lazier wrote that Cal Poly Dean of Students Office “supports diversity of viewpoints in all arenas of the campus community” and “cannot censor viewpoints — no matter how unpopular they may be.”
“The role of the Dean of Students is not to dictate participation or opinions brought to the discussion. While it is unfortunate that some have chosen not to participate, that is their choice to make,” Lazier wrote.
The panel is scheduled to run from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Chumash Auditorium in Cal Poly’s University Union. Attendance is free, but tickets must be reserved online at Eventbrite.com. You will need a physical copy of your ticket to get in.