The following is a more detailed, extended version of an email sent to three students in response to concerns regarding Ben Shapiro’s upcoming presence on campus.
I am writing to you as a progressive who has personally participated in resistance this year and who has worked closely with marginalized communities in the past few years.
I appreciate the courage it has taken for fellow students to voice their opinions about Ben Shapiro speaking at the University, through emails, one-on-one conversations with me, and the **Liberated counter-event. I also hope that my decision to invite Ben Shapiro is understood. I am the executive director of ASUR Convocations & Lectures this school year. When I applied to this position, my main goal was to bring a conservative figure to campus, as I wanted to see a more ideologically diverse speaker series at the university. My intention was to bring an individual who would challenge the atmosphere and political conversations on campus. In accordance with this, I made the carefully considered decision to invite Ben Shapiro to speak. Being a representative of all students, I was able to fulfill this role this year once I placed my own political views aside.
As director of Convocations & Lectures, I select and invite speakers through a long organizational process of consensus among students, faculty, ASUR Cabinet, and my committee. In fact, over the summer and school year, I had received a significant number of requests from students asking for a conservative voice, and specifically Ben Shapiro. I have been working to organize this particular event with a great deal of effort and collaboration with ASUR, Young Americans for Freedom, University Communications, Campus Event Services, Student Life and Public Safety these past few weeks.
In the past years, we’ve had a number of conservative speakers come to campus. One of them was Andrew Breitbart, an ultra-conservative, alt-right figure very different from Ben Shapiro. Shapiro, editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire, has actually disaffiliated with Breitbart and has continually opposed his network. Shapiro also voiced his opinion against Trump on a number of occasions and made it very clear that he is not a Trump supporter. It seems there are a few misconceptions about him among students.
I hope that my goals and purpose for Ben Shapiro’s talk in March are clear. I believe in the importance of representing all voices—conservative and liberal alike. My aim for Ben Shapiro’s talk is to have students attend, listen, and be challenged. To fully gain an educational and meaningful learning experience in college, I believe we must be challenged. Sometimes, being challenged means that we will feel uncomfortable, and we will feel offended. But, we must realize that creating a brave space is vital to our success both in and after our time at the University of Redlands—something I learned from my dear friend and mentor Leela MadhavRau at the forum held the night after the Presidential elections.
The reality of our world today is that Shapiro is one of the many voices in this country and around the world that we will inevitably encounter once we leave college. As with every speaker we invite, bringing their voice to campus is not an endorsement of their views in any way. Rather, including voices like Shapiro’s allows us to participate in a campus-wide, politically diversified conversation—something critical to a liberal arts education. Furthermore, knowing what voices we may encounter after college is key to our work in resistance and change. So while I do respect whatever decision you make, I fear not attending Shapiro’s talk defeats these goals and purpose.
That being said, I appreciate the intentions of the counter-event. In a time when we are facing violent acts of protest in such institutions as UC Berkeley and Middlebury College, hosting a peaceful and original form of resistance is a powerful message that I hope resonates in universities across the nation.
Ben Shapiro’s talk is a part of our Spring Political Series that brings a variety of voices and perspectives to campus with the goal of enabling important conversations. The series also included political strategist Jim Messina (White House Deputy Chief of Staff and Campaign Manager for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign), cybersecurity expert Billy Pope of the U.S. Air Force at the Pentagon, and recently retired California Senator Barbara Boxer coming on April 4. Shaun King (Civil Rights Activist heavily involved in the Black Lives Matter movement)—whose talk was scheduled in February but canceled due to an accident—will hopefully be rescheduled. My hope is that through listening, thoughtful consideration of a range of ideas, and respectful discourse, we will be engaged and challenged this semester.
Ben Shapiro will be speaking at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 15 in the Memorial Chapel, and a Q&A will follow.