Was Milo Yiannopoulos’ event a ‘publicity stunt’? UC Berkeley community debates

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Milo Yiannopoulos’ approximately 20-minute appearance Sunday on Sproul Plaza has generated criticism from a number of campus community members, who called the event a publicity stunt.

After briefly addressing a crowd of about 50 people who were able to make it past security to attend the event, Yiannopoulos spent several minutes taking pictures with members of the crowd and autographing paraphernalia. He then hurriedly left campus.

Yiannopoulos was initially invited to speak at UC Berkeley by conservative campus publication the Berkeley Patriot, which was responsible for hosting “Free Speech Week” on campus from Sunday to Sept. 27. The Berkeley Patriot announced Saturday that Free Speech Week was canceled, but Yiannopoulos — who had been working with the Berkeley Patriot to co-organize Free Speech Week — said he intended to speak on campus whether or not he had the organization’s support.

Many members of the campus community said Yiannopoulos’ 20-minute speech was done for the sake of publicity, including campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof, who referred to Yiannopoulos’ visit as the “most expensive photo op” in the campus’s history during a press conference held after Yiannopoulos left campus.

“I think the fact that he was only there for 15-20 minutes and spent most of it taking pictures with people instead of saying anything substantive shows that this was a publicity stunt,” said CalSERVE party chair Victoria Berdin, who participated in protests of the event Sunday.

Campus sophomore Sona Trika expressed disappointment over Yiannopoulos’ visit, calling the protective measures taken by campus and community members “wasteful.” Security for the event will cost the campus about $800,000, according to UCPD Chief Margo Bennett.

“Why does the university as an institution have to host Milo?” said campus freshman Sarah Kim. “Why can’t Milo go somewhere else or talk at some other public venue? All that these events do is drain campus funds.”

Berkeley Police Department and its law enforcement partners arrested at least 11 people in connection to Sunday’s demonstrations. Berdin alleged that some relatively peaceful protesters were arrested at the event, while others engaging in more “violent” acts were left alone.

Berdin also said she believed Yiannopoulos’ appearance was a “missed opportunity” for Chancellor Carol Christ and the campus to oppose hate speech.

“If we say we’re going to be supporting marginalized communities on campus, we shouldn’t be negotiating ideas that undermine (their) safety,” Berdin said.

Mogulof said during the press conference Sunday that the campus’s commitment to implementing policies that support free speech will not waver, even in the changing political climate.

“We’re seeing things here again on the campus and the country that we haven’t seen before,” Mogulof said during the conference.

Amber Tang covers student life. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ambertang_dc.