SPOKANE, Wash. – Students groups at Whitworth University are at odds over inviting conservative commentator Ben Shapiro to speak on campus.
Shapiro also serves as editor-in-chief for The Daily Wire.
Whitworth President Beck Taylor sent an email to the school community informing them that the Associated Students of Whitworth University (ASWU) voted on Wednesday to deny a request from the Young Americans for Freedom club to invite Shapiro to speak.
“Each year, students elect a student government to debate and decide issues that are within the responsibility of student governance. Club speaker approval is a student government responsibility. Clubs propose speakers for approval, and elected student representatives either approve or disapprove such requests. The decisions and views of student government do not necessarily represent those of the university, its administration, or its board of trustees,” Taylor wrote.
“For many in our community, ASWU’s decision will be seen as another sign of the decline of civil discourse and freedom of expression on college campuses. Others will see this as a courageous choice to protect the community from divisive and potentially harmful speech. That the country and our community are so divided on such issues points to a third conclusion, which is that this was a very difficult decision that attempted to weigh two competing goods at Whitworth – the value of intellectual openness and the value of creating safe and inclusive spaces for learning and discovery,” he wrote.
Read Taylor’s full letter below:
The Young Americans for Freedom chapter at Whitworth has started a Change.org petition to reverse the student government’s decision. The club is looking for 1,000 signatures and has already received more than 500 as of 1 p.m. on Thursday.
“The students of the Young Americans for Freedom chapter at Whitworth worked hard to bring Ben to speak this April and were met with opposition based on political bias and a refusal to engage in the free exchange of ideas. The university’s actions are discriminatory against Whitworth students from every corner of the political spectrum and a violation of free speech,” the petition reads.
Will Liening, a senior at Whitworth, reached out to KREM to voice opposition to the student government’s recent decision.
“I would agree that most folks who were ‘relieved’ by this decision genuinely think that they would be harmed by viewpoints that disagree with their own. The extent to which Shapiro’s commentary is considered harmful is very subjective. I find it very disheartening that our generation is more than willing to limit diversity of ideas for the sake of making sure their feelings aren’t hurt, or their identities attacked,” Liening wrote in part.
Liening added that he is impressed with the number of people who have expressed disappointment in the student government’s decision even though they disagree with Shapiro’s views.
“These people have cited the fear of setting precedent for Whitworth speakers and stifling the diversity of thought on campus,” he wrote to KREM.
Ben Shapiro will not speak at Gonzaga
Gonzaga’s College Republicans announced via Facebook on Tuesday that Shapiro would not speak at the university.
In February, Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh allowed the College Republicans club to invite Ben Shapiro speak on campus this spring after the university previously denied the club's request in November.
The College Republicans said that Young America's Foundation, an organization that works with conservative student groups, denied the event after disapproving of every venue they provided on Gonzaga's campus.
"Although we are saddened that Mr. Shapiro will not attend Gonzaga University this spring, the approval process has been rewarding for our club. We were able to overturn a university decision while adhering to the values and principles of critical thought and open debate that are necessary at any institution of higher learning," the club wrote in a statement posted on Facebook. "The Gonzaga College Republicans will continue to stand for the First Amendment, and support conservative ideas being heard on campus."
In a Facebook status, the club wrote, "We fought hard! We are saddened to share this news."
Gonzaga originally denied the club's request for Shapiro to speak because of safety concerns. University leaders cited the fact Shapiro's appearances have drawn protests, which include "inappropriate behavior, as well as divisive and hateful speech, which is offensive to many people regardless of their age, politics or beliefs."