Gonzaga’s College Republicans student group is upset that the university won’t allow the public to attend a late-February talk on campus by popular conservative writer and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza.
“I was told he’s a nasty guy and a homophobe and that’s why it can’t be open to the public,” said Ben Dubois, a junior at Gonzaga and a member of the College Republicans.
Dubois said he hadn’t expected any pushback from Gonzaga when D’Souza, whose books have made the New York Times bestsellers list, was invited.
“I knew he was controversial, but we thought he wasn’t that well-known,” Dubois said. “We want to get more than 100 people there; that’s why we want it open to the public.”
The talk is scheduled for Feb. 24 in the Hemmingson Ballroom on the GU campus.
Mary Joan Hahn, the university’s director of community and public relations, said via email that Dubois is not citing the right reason for keeping the presentation private.
“Most of the speakers invited by student groups are for our students,” Hahn said. “It is less common for us to invite the public to those events.”
Hahn said the university offers numerous lectures by faculty or academically sponsored guest speakers where the public is welcome to attend.
“This isn’t a political rally or debate; it’s meant to be a thoughtful exchange that leads to learning,” Hahn said.
It’s not the first time a speaker has caused controversy at the private Jesuit university.
When Archbishop Desmond Tutu was invited as the commencement speaker in 2012, controversy raged because of Tutu’s support of gay marriage and abortion rights.
“The Vagina Monologues,” a play about violence against women and objectification of female sexuality, was banned from campus until President Thayne McCulloh overturned the decision in 2009.
D’Souza, who immigrated to the United States from India as an exchange student, was a policy analyst for President Ronald Reagan and has written many conservative bestsellers, including “America: Imagine A World Without Her,” and “The Enemy at Home.”
One of his latest books, “Obama’s America: Unmaking the American Dream,” was turned into the bestselling documentary “2016: Obama’s America.”
According to his website, D’Souza spent time in prison in 2014 for improperly donating money to a friend’s Senate campaign. It inspired him to write “Stealing America: What My Experience with Criminal Gangs Taught Me about Obama, Hillary, and the Democratic Party.”
D’Souza’s critics accuse him of historical revisionism and of denying ongoing, systemic oppression of minorities.
D’Souza charges a $10,000 speaking fee – $2,000 of which Dubois said came from the Gonzaga Student Body Association. The remaining $8,000 is a grant from the Young America’s Foundation, a conservative youth organization.
Dubois said he believes D’Souza should receive the same treatment as other bestselling authors and have his talk open to the public.
“They preach diversity and inter-dialogue, especially with the community, but they don’t really do it,” Dubois said of Gonzaga. He added that he was told Gonzaga’s decision can’t be appealed.
In an email statement, Gonzaga’s assistant dean of student involvement and leadership Colleen Vandenboom wrote: “Our events at their core are intended to advance an exemplary learning community that educates students for lives of leadership and service for the common good.”
Dubois said he saw D’Souza speak at a conference in Washington, D.C., in 2015 and found him engaging.
“He’s got a great message and I wanted other people to hear him speak,” Dubois said.
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