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Controversial Speaker’s Appearance Funded By $18,000 In Student Fees

Nearly $18,000 in student fees will be used to bring controversial alt-right political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos to campus on Wednesday, November 3.

According to University Park Allocation Committee records, $17,934.80 in student fees will fund Yiannopoulos’s speaking event, which is organized by student organization Uncensored America. The group says it works to give “people on both sides” the chance to speak and hear others.

At Uncensored America’s presentation before UPAC on September 21, presenters Sean Semanko and Luca Miraldi said Yiannopoulos’s lecture, taglined “Pray The Gay Away,” would bring a new perspective to campus.

“He has been kicked off multiple social media platforms, so we think it would be beneficial to hear what happened from his perspective,” they said. “On a college campus, you have an opportunity to hear all kinds of voices. We want to bring in opposing viewpoints to challenge how students think while promoting diversity and inclusion.”

UPAC unanimously voted to distribute the student fee funding as an honorarium. It won’t cover lodging, travel, equipment, or facility rental, according to UPAC’s records.

In a statement last week, UPAC said it’s neutral on the event and doesn’t “explicitly share” Yiannopoulos’s views.

“All viewpoints, including those that are controversial, must have an equal chance of receiving funding,” UPAC’s statement read.

Penn State’s student fee is a $265 per student, per semester charge that helps fund organizations and events across campus. UPAC received $4,178,500 in its 2021-22 allocation — a $50,000 increase from the 2020-21 academic year.

Although students are eligible for free tickets to Yiannopoulos’s event, but more exclusive tickets are available, too. Students can pay up to $55 for “royalty” tickets that come with front-row seating and a meet-and-greet opportunity.

Penn State published a statement last week condemning Yiannopoulos’s history but reiterating that it won’t prevent a student organization from bringing him to campus.

“As a public university, we are fundamentally and unalterably obligated under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment to protect various expressive rights, even for those whose viewpoints offend our basic institutional values. To do otherwise not only violates the Constitution but would undermine the basic freedom each of us shares to generally think and express ourselves as we wish,” the university said. “A public university cannot impose the risks of censorship on those whose viewpoints it does not like without equally risking censorship for all, including those viewpoints it strongly endorses.”

Penn State’s Coalition for a Just University, an independent faculty group, said the university’s refusal to prohibit Yiannopoulos’s appearance is a “specious” interpretation of the right to free speech.

“The First Amendment prohibits government interference in the expression of controversial views,” the CJU said. “It does not require universities to provide a platform for a speaker who has a history of verbal attacks on LGBTQ+ people, women, Muslims, and many other groups — especially when the speaker is receiving an $18,000 honorarium (funded by student fees), and the organizers of the event are charging admission for non-student members of the public and those desiring VIP access to the speaker.”

Other groups and individuals, including U.S. Senator Bob Casey, the State College borough, and Penn State’s student government, issued similar statements discouraging the event.

So far, nearly 12,000 people have signed a Change.org petition urging Penn State to uninvite Yiannopoulos from campus.

Penn State’s Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity will host a “Love is Louder” event this week in opposition to Yiannopoulos’s appearance. The event will take place from 6 to 10 p.m. on Wednesday, November 3, in the HUB’s Heritage Hall. It’ll feature music, food, and activities to “inspire love and community within the Penn State student body.”

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

By day, Matt is a senior majoring in journalism. By night, he's Onward State's managing editor. He's a huge Philadelphia sports fan, fantasy football lover, and washed-up drummer hailing from Collegeville, Pa. The quickest way to his heart is Margherita pizza and "Arrested Development" quotes. Follow him on Twitter @mattdisanto_ if you hate yourself or email Matt at [email protected] if you hate him.

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