Republicans submit proposal for Shapiro


The Augustana College Republicans submitted a proposal to the conservative youth organization Young America’s Foundation (YAF) on Tuesday, May 1 requesting a contract be drafted between Augustana University and the conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro to allow him give a lecture on campus.image9 (1)

 At the same time, members of the administration are forming a concert and lecture committee to evaluate speakers and a number of students signed a student-lead petition urging the administration to retract the Republican’s invitation.

The administration has not approved or disapproved of Shapiro, primarily because the event is “still in the exploratory stage,” Dean of Student Jim Bies said.

According to College Republican president Corey Albrecht and vice president Emily Novotny, nothing is concrete. They still have to be selected from the pool of schools that applied and selection depends on where he is touring and the specifics of each school.

“We have no idea how many schools actually [applied] or what [Shapiro’s] team looks for in a school. So, it is really hard to say at this point,” Albrecht said. “We have no idea.”

“I wish we knew,” Novotny said.

If the university is selected by YAF, the speech would have to be approved by Augustana President Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.

Albrecht said he foresees the president approving of the speech.

“Augustana brands itself as an institution that is accepting of diverse viewpoints, and that is the purpose of a college campus—to allow students the opportunity to hear differing viewpoints and come to their own conclusions.”

However, a petition circulated by senior Rob Haggar and sophomores Sara Telahun Birhe and Erica Dorsett asked the administration to oppose his speech on the grounds that his speech “would pose a fundamental risk to the safety of students of color, those who practice Islam and non-Christian faiths and those in the LGBTQ+ community,” the petition reads.

“We do not want that to happen,” Haggar said. “I do not know if it is controversial to say that discrimination is bad, but this rhetoric is not good for our community.”

The three students created the petition last week, and in two-and-a-half-days, over 100 students signed the petition. In addition, the Augustana College Democrats, the Gender and Sexuality Alliance and the Feminist Equality Movement endorsed the petition.

Albrecht said while the College Republicans support the students’ First Amendment right to petition, he is disappointed the students are attempting to shut down the event instead of attending the event and engaging in dialogue with Shapiro.

Telahun Birhe suggested instead of bringing Shapiro to campus to generate conversation, the university should look toward student-to-student conversation.

“If we are not directing student-to-student conversation and encouraging that, then what are we doing for the students at Augie?” Telahun Birhe said.

Albrecht said that during student discussions, conservative students have felt dominated by the liberal voice. 

“Based on what we have heard from conservative students, they are largely afraid to speak their mind on campus because they do fear backlash from both professors and peers,” Albrecht said.

Haggar said that feeling is the consequence of speech.

“That is just what speech entails,” Haggar said. “It is not that we are not going to judge them by what they say—that is our responsibility.”

image11Bies said he is forming a group to build a concert and lecture committee. So far, the group is comprised of Bies, members of ASA, Director of Campus Safety Rick Tupper, Associate Director of Campus Life Michelle Harvey and communications professor Mike Nitz. 

The group will define a review process for speakers, set parameters on free speech and recommend a structure through which student groups can invite speakers and host events, Bies said.

The goal of the group is to make room for student activism, which he thinks will increase in the coming years.

Going forward, philosophy professor David O’Hara would like to see the institution select and approve of speakers based on how they relate to our values.

“I think it would be prudent of us to examine our values together repeatedly, and if we come up with rules, let those become the basis about how to invite people and whom to invite. Those make a really strong basis.”

Bies said there has to be a balance between free speech and student concerns.

“Free speech is a highly-valued virtue in our country but there needs to be some defined limits on how far one can go,” Bies said.

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