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Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi Releases Statement On Cancellation Of Controversial Event

Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi penned a message to the Penn State community early Tuesday morning addressing the cancellation of the “Stand Back and Stand By” event that was set to feature the founder of the Proud Boys, Gavin McInnes, and Alex Stein.

The event, which was supposed to start at 8 p.m. on Monday in the Thomas Building, was canceled less than an hour before its scheduled start due to the “threat of escalating violence.” Protests outside the Thomas Building were well underway at the time of the event’s cancellation.

Bendapudi began by calling McInnes and Stein “provocateurs known for their abhorrent views and rhetoric.” However, despite stating that Penn State denounced the speakers, Bendapudi stood by the university’s original decision to not cancel the event ahead of time.

“However, they were invited to speak on campus by a registered student organization and as an institution of higher education, we support the fundamental constitutional right of free speech and free expression of all members of our community,” Bendapudi wrote. “It is precisely because of this unwavering commitment to free speech that provocative individuals target our campus to deliver speeches.”

She continued, stating that she is “so proud” of students who attended and organized alternative events to “register their disapproval of these speakers, and their disavowal of their hateful messages.” Bendapudi said she joined the hundreds of students, faculty, staff, and community leaders at the “Together We Are” event in the HUB, which “reaffirmed our unity,” as she put it.

Bendapudi acknowledged the large groups of protestors who were set up outside the Thomas Building “to exercise their right to free speech in opposition to the invited speakers.”

“It is my understanding that Alex Stein (co-host with Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes) entered the peaceful protest and this action raised the tension,” Bendapudi said. “It is unclear which individuals onsite then resorted to physical confrontation and to using pepper spray against others in the crowd, including against police officers.”

Bendapudi noted that it appears no one was seriously injured amid the protests.

“Tonight, Stein and McInnes will celebrate a victory for being canceled, when in actuality, they contributed to the very violence that compromised their ability to speak,” Bendapudi said “Tonight, counter-protestors also will celebrate a victory that they forced the University to cancel this event, when in actuality they have furthered the visibility of the very cause they oppose.”

Bendapudi concluded her statement by expressing her support for those impacted and encouraging students to engage in “vigorous debate” while simultaneously upholding the university’s values moving forward.

“Tonight, the message too many people will walk away with is that one can manipulate people to generate free publicity, or that one can restrict speech by escalating protest to violence,” she said. “These are not ideas that we can endorse as an institution of higher education. We cannot laud academic freedom; and then abandon the constitutional right to free expression which undergirds academic freedom.”

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a senior majoring in journalism and is suddenly Onward State's managing editor. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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