Two questions have sprung from ASA’s recent decision to partially fund the College Republicans’ efforts to bring Ben Shapiro to campus.
The first is whether students feel their views are represented in the ASA senate decisions. The second centers on inviting Shapiro to share his speech on this campus and if it will uplift the school discourse and align with the core values of Augustana University.
In groups like the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) and Augustana Open Minds, some disgruntled students have voiced their concerns over the recent funding decision.
Stacie Allen, a member of GSA, said that it often feels like ASA decisions occur behind closed doors without any effort made to check the pulse of student discourse on the issues.
Others echoed this sentiment, including leaders of GSA Samson Mettler and Josh Jaton. Robert Haggar commented that this particular decision should have included preliminary conversations with the communities that “[Shapiro] degrades and alienates constantly.”
Hunter Lipinski, president of Augustana Democrats and ASA Senator, views the decision to supply funds for Shapiro differently. Despite personal concerns about Shapiro’s views, Lipinski voted in favor of the request. He qualified his decision as a desire to separate his personal views from his ASA responsibilities to student group requests and said that “when it came down to it, it was a funding request.”
In his role as Augustana Democrats’ president, Lipinski believes that he would attend a speech given by Shapiro on campus, if only to be a voice of dissent. Though he considers this a difficult task, Lipinski said he doesn’t think Shapiro should speak uncontested. Should Shapiro be invited to campus, it is likely that several groups will protest and join Lipinski as voices of dissent.
The other common concern among students and faculty is the lasting effect Shapiro’s rhetoric will have on the campus community. In his podcast for the Daily Wire, Shapiro often refers to opposing views as “stupid” or “intensely stupid.”
With this sentiment at the forefront of most of his work, it is difficult to argue that Shapiro will facilitate meaningful academic discourse between opposing ideas. One can easily see the alienating effect his words may have.
When discussing this alienating language, professor Darcie Rives-East said, “To me that is antithetical to what we are trying to do here at Augustana, which is create a community that respects each other.”
As a core value of Augustana University, this breakdown of community should be considered seriously before the administration issues an invitation to Shapiro.
Mark Blackburn, director of Diversity and Inclusion, believes that there is an on-campus problem that needs to be addressed before inviting someone as controversial as Shapiro.
Citing a campus climate survey from November, Blackburn said that students are unwilling to listen to people with other opinions on hot button issues. He went on to emphasize that students have “to learn how to talk to each other first before we bring in someone who will stir the pot.”
As a university that celebrates its core values of Christianity, liberal arts, excellence, community and service, there are hurdles to cross before inviting a speaker as divisive as Ben Shapiro.
While the Christian values have been used by ASA senators in the past as grounds to argue against support for gender inclusive housing and an interfaith space, it seems that the core values did not enter the conversation for the College Republicans’ funding request.
In the future, one can only hope for a conversation of equity for dissenting voices on issues like this.
Rachel Polan is a senior journalism, Spanish, and theatre major from Nelsen, Neb.