Self-described as “the most fabulous troll on the Internet,” Milo Yiannopoulos is eminently comfortable in his role as the left’s comically villainous bogeyman.
Leveraging outrage for attention, Yiannopoulos has made a name for himself at the forefront of the culture wars, decrying the perceived evils of third-wave feminism, political correctness and other issues at the heart of the modern social justice movement.
Most recently, the divisive right-wing provocateur saw his speech at the University of California, Berkeley, cancelled Wednesday night amid demonstrators setting fires and throwing objects at buildings to protest his appearance.
To critics, Yiannopoulos epitomizes the evils of the alt-right, a label he flirted with in the past but has since disavowed. To his followers, he is a champion of free speech and a prominent voice against the regressive left. I believe we, the students of Georgetown University, should extend Yiannopoulos an invitation to speak on campus in order to answer, once and for all, a fundamental open question about our university’s commitment to free speech.
In the last two years, Georgetown has repeatedly seen controversies from both sides of the political divide regarding its free speech and expression policy. In September of 2014, the student body protested the removal of H*yas For Choice members in advance of the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., Cardinal Donald Wuerl receiving an honorary degree in Gaston Hall.
In April of 2015, the Georgetown University’s College Republicans’ invitation of Christina Hoff Sommers, a critic of the “rape myth,” prompted a wave of condemnation from students, including the editorial board of The Hoya, who argued that she should not have been invited.
A year later, the student body was divided on whether a Catholic, Jesuit university should have invited Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards to give an address. Even as recently as last semester, free speech incidents included pro-life messages being defaced in Red Square and GUPD investigating pro-Trump chalked messages.
These incidents will continue to happen and spark controversy, because, although Georgetown’s free speech policy is clear, the student body only selectively respects it.
Broadly speaking, we must choose between two options for our university. The first is an environment of open debate, of competing ideas, of controversial opinion and intellectual freedom. The second is to leverage cultural pressure and social stigma to shield and support the prevailing conception of social justice.
The first option tolerates opposing viewpoints; the second rejects unproductive ones. The first allows protest but rejects censorship and intimidation; the second option utilizes protest intended to silence.
This dichotomy was first observed by New York University social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, and respected universities have aligned themselves on both sides. On one end of the spectrum, the student body at Brown University has a checkered history with cancelling controversial speakers. Student protest has successfully cancelled or curtailed events featuring former New York Police Department commissioner Ray Kelly, libertarian Wendy McElroy and black trans-woman activist Janet Mock.
On the other hand, the University of Chicago sent its Class of 2020 a letter of academic freedom detailing the university’s commitment to the “freedom of inquiry and expression” and rejection of trigger warnings, safe spaces and cancelling speakers.
Now, Georgetown simply has to choose: model itself on the suffocating limitations on free speech policy at Brown University or promote the culture of open discourse exemplified by the University of Chicago. I submit that inviting Yiannopoulos and inviting the ensuing controversy will be the grounds upon which we discover exactly where Georgetown stands.
If the administration and the student body intervene outright or otherwise intimidate him from coming, we will have demonstrated our intolerance for opposition to prevailing opinion out of a desire to protect futilely our conception of social progress.
If, on the other hand, a student group is able to bring successfully a vocal critic of social justice peacefully to campus for him to share his ideas, we will have taken a step towards the idea of a university that is truly tolerant of free speech.
I firmly believe such a step would be in all students’ interest. As the past year has shown, the increasingly isolated ideological bubbles we live in have real cost when it comes to our ability to understand our country and our world.
Milo Yiannopoulos is currently touring college campuses across the country, so College Republicans, College Democrats and the Lecture Fund, I urge you to take the first step towards a reckoning for our university: Send Milo an invitation.
Alan Chen is a junior in the College.
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