Despite efforts that UNC-Chapel Hill College Republicans say they’ve made to hold respectful discussions with left-wing protesters on campus, there’s little indication that discourse is likely to become more civil.
On Wednesday, a combative talk about racial issues from conservative author and commentator Ben Shapiro was met with protest by members of the university’s Black Lives Matter movement, all of whom staged a silent walkout a few minutes into Shapiro’s presentation.
Protesting students, who made up nearly one-third of the audience, faced both applause and mockery during their exit from the remaining attendees. The demonstration followed an unapologetic introduction from Shapiro, in which he stated that he hoped no one would walk out, and laid out five terms he said the Left uses to “obsess” about race.
“These are all stupid and counterproductive terms,” Shapiro said. “The first is ‘diversity,’ the second is ‘white privilege,’ the third is ‘trigger warnings,’ the fourth is ‘microaggressions,’ and the fifth is ‘safe spaces.’ Now, this is going to make some folks upset. Fortunately for me, I don’t care.”
After the protesters vacated, empty seats immediately were filled by others who had waited outside to hear Shapiro’s talk.
Shapiro responded to the incident by stating that he would prefer the protesting students stay, but he didn’t want to infringe on anyone’s freedoms, and welcomed open-minded students to join the audience.
“I know there are a bunch of other people that want to come in, so I’m of the opinion that in a ‘safe space’ — which is called freedom in America — of course other people should be allowed to come in,” he said.
“I thought you weren’t going to say, ‘safe space,’” challenged a student in the audience.
“I am,” Shapiro responded as the audience laughed. “It’s called irony.”
Protesters declined to speak with Carolina Journal, but following the walkout, student Charity Lackey, who organized the protest, said in public remarks that Shapiro’s view of racial issues only served to fuel hatred, racism, and oppression.
“Ben Shapiro completely disregards the struggles that the oppressed have faced, not only on this campus, but in our families, our neighborhoods, our communities, and our countries,” Lackey said before the group of protesters. “He is complicit in a system that foundationally disregards our humanity — whether because of color, creed, gender, or any other ideals that do not represent white, male, heterosexual normativity.”
Lackey also confronted UNC-Chapel Hill’s College Republicans group — the hosts of the Shapiro event — challenging them to invite speakers who would create “inclusive space” for discussion.
“[The] College Republicans [group] is complicit in this system of racism, militarism, and materialism that continues to oppress us,” Lackey said. “Frank Pray, the [chairman] of the College Republicans, can be quoted saying that he aligns himself with the politics of Ben Shapiro. If Frank Pray does indeed agree with the politics of Ben Shapiro, then he too is complicit in oppression.”
Pray said that his group previously has invited moderate speakers to give talks on campus, and that groups like Lackey’s continue to oppose the presence of the speakers, regardless of the perspectives they represent.
“The fact of the matter is that this is only unreasonable conversation to unreasonable people,” Pray said. “They shout them down, they taunt them, they speak out of turn during questionings, they walk out. Or they just don’t even show up. They’re not interested in having a conversation. That is the fact of what the Left [does] on this campus —and on other campuses across the nation.”
Pray also stated that he wouldn’t back down from accusations of intolerance, and said that he thinks his group has made plenty of efforts to hold discourse with individuals of other viewpoints.
“I’m actually friends with a couple of them,” Pray said of left-wing student activists. “And a lot of times they’re good people. They’ve just had this viewpoint wash over them — because they’ve heard it from professors and from hundreds of other students — that tells them that anyone who doesn’t agree must be evil. And that’s why they’re being so intolerant in their ‘tolerance’ of other viewpoints.”
“We’ve tried talking to them, we’ve tried being conciliatory before, and as Ben Shapiro said, it doesn’t work,” Pray continued. “So we’re done… If they want to talk with us in a respectful tone, we’re open to that. If they don’t want to do that, we’re just going to yell right back.”