Penn State news by
Penn State's student blog

Topics

More

University Issues Statement Regarding Controversial October 24 Speakers, Shares Alternative Events

Penn State leaders issued a statement Tuesday regarding controversial speakers coming to campus on Monday, October 24. Uncensored America, a registered student organization, is bringing the founder of the Proud Boys, which is an organization named by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.

Uncensored America was founded at Penn State in 2020 and is “dedicated to fighting for freedom of speech.” Its mission statement says it seeks to “empower young Americans to fight for free speech in order to make American culture free and fun again.”

The university statement is signed by interim Vice President and General Counsel Frank Guadagnino, Vice President of Student Affairs Damon Sims, and Vice Provost of Education Equity Marcus Whitehurst.

“To be clear, the presence of any speaker on our campuses should not be taken as an endorsement by Penn State, and we can emphatically say that our University neither supports nor condones the vitriolic and hateful language targeting particular groups that has been used by these speakers in the past, which is contrary to the University’s fundamental values of inclusion and mutual respect,” these leaders wrote in the statement.

The statement says the university is in an “unenviable position of sharing space with individuals whose views differ dramatically” from the values of the university. They also said they will take reasonable precautions to protect the safety of those associated with these activities.

“As a recognized student organization, Uncensored America has the undeniable constitutional right to sponsor this presentation on our campus,” the statement read. “Student organizations may select the speakers they invite to campus without the University’s endorsement. While the type of rhetoric these speakers regularly engage in does not represent the values of Penn State, our student organizations operate independent of the University and are free to sponsor programs or speakers of their choosing without censorship.”

It continued, stating that public universities are obligated under the First Amendment to protect various expressive rights, even if offensive to others.

“While the past statements and actions of these speakers are alarming and can elicit strong reactions from our community, we must continue to uphold the right to free speech — even speech we find abhorrent — because Penn State fully supports the fundamental right of free speech” the statement read. “To do otherwise not only violates the Constitution but would erode the basic freedom each of us shares to think and express ourselves as we wish.”

The University Park Allocation Committee (UPAC) made its decision independently of the university to fund this event, as it remains “viewpoint neutral” in its allocation process. More information about the funding can be found here.

According to the September 6 UPAC meeting minutes, a budget of over $7,500 was unanimously recommended for speaker payment and airfare.

One particular comment from the committee discussion said, “Budget looked fine, everything seemed to be in order, it is important as Penn State has a diverse range of thoughts (no matter the disagreements). If [sic] passes all our parameters, then there is no question as to why it shouldn’t be funded.”

Two alternative events are being offered the evening of October 24.

Between 6 and 10 p.m. in Alumni and Heritage Halls, Penn State’s Student Programming Association (SPA) will host a “Together We Are” event. It will include activities, performances, and support resources.

At 6 p.m. in the Freeman Auditorium, Al Tompkins will also host a free hour-long lecture titled “Fighting Truth Decay: How and Why Fakers Fake.” Tompkins is senior faculty at the Poynter Institute and “one of America’s most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches.”

Additionally, there will be a lecture at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, October 18, in the Freeman Auditorium that will discuss the tactics used by groups like Proud Boys. Joan Donovan, research director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University, and author of “Meme Wars: The Untold Story of the Online Battles Upending Democracy in America,” will share her insight.

The Student Committee for Defense and Solidarity is hosting a student-led protest outside the Thomas Building at 6 p.m. on October 24, according to a flyer.

“Resist platforming and paying $5,000 of our money to violent, neofascist Proud Boys Founder Gavin McInnes by SHUTTING HIM DOWN,” the flyer reads.

Last year, Penn Staters similarly responded to controversial speaker Milo Yiannopoulos with a “Love is Louder” protest.

You can read the full university statement below.

As you may already know, at the invitation of a registered student organization, two controversial figures whose rhetoric in the past has been hateful and discriminatory will be speaking on the University Park campus on the evening of Monday, Oct. 24. One of the speakers has been identified as founder of the Proud Boys, an organization named by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, and the other, a comedian and BlazeTV contributor, has been called a “professional troll.” To be clear, the presence of any speaker on our campuses should not be taken as an endorsement by Penn State, and we can emphatically say that our University neither supports nor condones the vitriolic and hateful language targeting particular groups that has been used by these speakers in the past, which is contrary to the University’s fundamental values of inclusion and mutual respect.

Once again, we find ourselves in the unenviable position of sharing space with individuals whose views differ dramatically from our University’s values of inclusion, diversity, equity and respect. The justified concerns around the upcoming visit of these controversial figures make it necessary for us to reaffirm our collective commitment to our stated values and to explain why Penn State would allow speakers whose history indicates they ascribe to discriminatory views to visit our campus and community.

These individuals are not the first of their ilk to appear on our campus and we are certain they will not be the last. We take every reasonable precaution to protect the safety of those associated with activities on our campuses. We’ll do so in this instance, too, and we shall respond appropriately as circumstances require. 

Since the announcement of this Oct. 24 event, we have received some requests to ban or cancel this event. Please allow us to explain why this event will be held as planned.

As a recognized student organization, Uncensored America has the undeniable constitutional right to sponsor this presentation on our campus. Student organizations may select the speakers they invite to campus without the University’s endorsement. While the type of rhetoric these speakers regularly engage in does not represent the values of Penn State, our student organizations operate independent of the University and are free to sponsor programs or speakers of their choosing without censorship. 

As a public university, we are 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 and our personal sensibilities. While the past statements and actions of these speakers are alarming and can elicit strong reactions from our community, we must continue to uphold the right to free speech — even speech we find abhorrent — because Penn State fully supports the fundamental right of free speech. To do otherwise not only violates the Constitution but would erode the basic freedom each of us shares to think and express ourselves as we wish. 

There also have been questions about funding for this event. The University Park Allocation Committee, a student-led group that can provide funds assigned from student fees for events, makes its decisions independent of the University and remains viewpoint-neutral as an integral part of the allocation process. A message from UPAC published before a previous similar controversial event explains more and can be found on the UPAC website.

These two speakers and others like them are provocateurs, who intentionally use derogatory and hateful language to stir passions and widen divisions among us. Responding to hate with hate is never the answer. Instead, two coinciding events, one celebrating our diverse community and another educating us all to distinguish truth from false propaganda, will be held. And we encourage all to join these events:

Together We Are
Monday, Oct. 24, 6-10 p.m.
Alumni and Heritage halls in the HUB-Robeson Center
The Student Programming Association is hosting this community event to show unity and celebrate all those who make Penn State, Penn State. The event will host several activities, performances and resources to support and promote belonging and community.

Fighting Truth Decay: How and Why Fakers Fake
Monday, Oct. 24, 6-7 p.m.
Freeman Auditorium, HUB-Robeson Center
Al Tompkins, senior faculty at the Poynter Institute and one of America’s most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches, will present a free public lecture. His keynote presentation is part of a two-day visit through the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters Visiting Professionals Program.

The University also is hosting a talk on Oct. 18 to shine a light on political violence and the tactics used by provocateurs like those coming to campus on Oct. 24:

Doing It for the Content: Understanding Political Violence and Far Right Organizing from Fashion to Fascism
Tuesday, Oct. 18, 6 p.m.
Freeman Auditorium, HUB-Robeson Center
Joan Donovan, research director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University and author of “Meme Wars: The Untold Story of the Online Battles Upending Democracy in America,” will share insights into the communication, media and other strategies of groups like the Proud Boys.

The best response to hateful speech is inclusive speech and the creation of spaces devoted to reflection, healing, and the celebration of those qualities we value. We encourage all within the University community to join these alternative events — planned by the Student Programming Association, Student Affairs, other student groups, the Bellisario College of Communications, or a mix of these entities — and demonstrate our unity around the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion. If you oppose the past expressions of these two speakers as we do, make that opposition known by uniting in the most effective way possible — by ignoring them and joining with others to unify and strengthen our University community.

In our estimation, these speakers are provocateurs who use odious behavior and conflict to gain attention and avoid serious conversations on topics of importance. However, we know that words are hurtful and harmful, and we stand ready to provide resources and support to our community members who may be adversely affected by these speakers.

Frank Guadagnino
Interim Vice President and General Counsel        

Damon Sims
Vice President
Student Affairs                            

Marcus Whitehurst
Vice Provost
Educational Equity

Your ad blocker is on.

Please choose an option below.

Sign up for our e-mail newsletter:
OR
Support quality journalism:
Purchase a Subscription!

About the Author

Colleen Nersten

Colleen is a senior biology major from York, Pa, and is one of Onward State's associate editors. She overuses the ~tilde~ and aspires to be no other than the great Guy Fieri. You can find Colleen filling up her gas tank at Rutter’s, the ~superior~ Pennsylvania gas station. Please direct any questions or concerns to [email protected] For the hijinks, always.

Follow on Another Platform
113kFollowers
157kFollowers
56.8kFollowers
4,570Subscribers
State College Links
Other posts by Colleen

President Bendapudi Named No. 4 Most Influential Woman In Pennsylvania By City & State

“Bendapudi is expected to keep the momentum going, drawing on her experience in Louisville, where she presided over rising recruitment, enrollment, diversity, and graduation rates.”

Canyon Pizza Reopens After Two-Week Closure Due To Health Violations

Penn State Shares Resources Following Colorado Springs LGBTQ Nightclub Shooting

Top 10 Plays From Penn State Football’s 2022 Season

Take a trip down memory lane by reminiscing on the Nittany Lions’ most impactful sequences of 2022.

Top 10 Plays From Penn State Football’s 2022 Season

Take a trip down memory lane by reminiscing on the Nittany Lions’ most impactful sequences of 2022.

[Photo Story] Penn State Iranian Student Association Hosts Solidarity Rally

Students and community members gathered Wednesday to rally in support of the protests in Iran and to honor the lives lost during the protests.

Power Ranking The Nittany Lion’s 2022 Football Season Outfits

From Nittany Lion classics to musical sensation look-a-likes, the Symbol of Our Best didn’t miss once this season.

 
Send this to a friend