The Berkeley College Republicans, or BCR, in collaboration with Young America’s Foundation, or YAF, has invited conservative author and columnist Ben Shapiro to speak on campus September 14.
Shapiro, a controversial right-wing political commentator, is the editor in chief of the Daily Wire, a nationally syndicated columnist and a New York Times best-selling author.
BCR External Vice President Naweed Tahmas said in an emailed statement BCR chose to invite Shapiro because of his ability to “effectively communicate conservative views to students,” citing Shapiro’s “extensive campus speaking history.”
Shapiro’s previous planned addresses at other college campuses have been met with occasional controversy — in February 2016, a speech by Shapiro on diversity at California State University, Los Angeles, erupted in protests, and last November, Shapiro was banned by administrators from speaking at DePaul University.
BCR and YAF also hosted a similar event on campus at UC Berkeley with Ben Shapiro in 2016, which passed without incident.
Tahmas added that this event will test the campus administration and whether it “caves” to what he called the “demands of the violent left.”
“As the nation watches the former home of the Free Speech Movement betray its legacy, the university has an opportunity to reclaim its reputation by standing for the rights of all students, including conservatives, to hear thought-provoking speakers such as Ben Shapiro,” Tahmas said in the statement.
Young America’s Foundation spokesperson Spencer Brown said Shapiro will make a public address — likely on the topic of free speech — and then field questions from attendees.
Brown said he expects the event to be received with “relief and gratitude” by the campus community, adding that Shapiro offers a “viewpoint rarely, if ever, heard at Berkeley.”
Brown said BCR plans to hold the event at 7 p.m. and is requesting from campus administrators a “prominent on-campus” venue that can accommodate 500 people.
“The ball is in Berkeley’s court,” Brown said. “This is a real opportunity for the university to prove its commitment to intellectual diversity and a free exchange of ideas.”
BCR informed the campus of its invitation to Shapiro on July 10 and campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said in an email the administration will work with BCR “to ensure they can host a safe and successful event.”
Mogulof added that UCPD will also begin a security assessment for the event to “offer important security-related recommendations, including guidance for the timing and location of an event.”
“We want to state unequivocally that Mr. Shapiro is welcome on the Berkeley campus,” Mogulof said in an email. “We are confident that arrangements can and will be made for Mr. Shapiro … with the exact date and time depending only on the availability of an appropriate venue and the recommendations of law enforcement professionals. We will do everything in our power to ensure that Mr. Shapiro, his hosts, and their guests can safely and successfully exercise their First Amendment rights.”
ASUC Senator-elect Juniperangelica Cordova said she supported all student groups’ right to invite guests and speakers at their discretion to campus.
Cordova, however, expressed concern about the intention behind these events, saying that to her “it seems to be a game for some organizations to organize these types of events only in order to spark conflict.”
Cordova said it was hard to project how the Shapiro event will turn out.
“I know communities are divided on these issues — I think there are folks who view the event as a direct attack on their communities. There are other communities who are just tired of having to protest and justify their lives, and are just willing to let the event play out,” Cordova said. “I hope this event goes through without violence and danger being put upon these students.”
Cal Berkeley Democrats President Caiden Nason said the portrayal of the event as “conservatives fighting for free speech rather than an open, honest conversation” will build pressure around the event, adding that he was concerned BCR leadership was more focused on “sensationalism rather than actual conversation.”
Nason said he hopes Shapiro ultimately is able to come to campus to “prove he has outdated beliefs.”
“Berkeley is not a school that doesn’t pay attention to facts,” Nason said. “And Ben Shapiro is someone that directly spits in the face of facts.”