The Gonzaga University College Republicans say their request to bring prominent conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro to campus next year has been denied by university officials.
In an article posted Thursday morning to CampusReform.com – a conservative news website that seeks to “expose bias and abuse on the nation’s college campuses,” according to its mission statement – writer Ben McDonald cites a written response from Judith Biggs Garbuio, the school’s vice president of student development, in which she says the request was denied “by at least four provisions” in Gonzaga’s Events Policy.
McDonald, a member of the Gonzaga University College Republicans club, also included a screenshot of Biggs Garbuio’s comment. In it, she writes that Shapiro’s presence would contradict the university’s Catholic and Jesuit mission and likely would become an issue for security.
“Mr. Shapiro’s appearances routinely draw protests that include extremely divisive and hateful speech and behavior which is offensive to many people, regardless of their age, politics or beliefs,” she writes. “Gonzaga University must prevent our campus from becoming a hostile environment for employees and students.”
Olivia Johnston, a sophomore at Gonzaga and president of the Republican club, disagreed with the university’s reasoning, saying she thought Shapiro aligned with Gonzaga’s values more than other controversial speakers. In 2016, administrators approved an appearance by conservative filmmaker and conspiracy theorist Dinesh D’Souza, which was first closed to the public but then opened after backlash.
Johnston said other events went off without any violent protests, so she said she had no reason to think this one would either.
“Ben Shapiro is a Jewish father, husband, he is pro life – which is something that Catholics stand for,” she said. “I guess I just don’t see where he differs from the mission of the school.”
Johnston said Biggs Garbuio’s response came last week after Johnston filed a formal request a month ago. The planned speech is part of a yearly event the club hosts, which last year featured Steve Forbes, the chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media.
In a statement sent Thursday evening, Mary Joan Hahn, Gonzaga’s senior director of community and public relations, said the university “felt it would not be able to provide a suitable venue, as well as the concomitant level of security, necessary to appropriately host (Shapiro).” She said the students who made the request had been encouraged to find another venue “that was better equipped to manage the event, and to ensure the safety and security of the guests.”
She also said that behavior displayed at past Shapiro gatherings ran contrary to the school’s mission. “As a private, faith-based, mission-driven institution committed to the human dignity of every individual, we stand in solidarity with vulnerable members of our community who may be targeted for discrimination, ridicule, or harassment by others,” she said in the statement.
Johnston said she and the club, which boasts about 260 members, were frustrated to learn the university denied the request.
“I feel like there’s an obvious bias happening at Gonzaga,” she said. “I think I speak on behalf of the club when I say we’re exhausted by this hypocrisy.”
The planned speech was scheduled for spring of next year as part of a lecture series by Young America’s Foundation, a conservative youth organization. Spencer Brown, the foundation’s spokesman, first discussed the issue Wednesday in a post on the organization’s website, in which he said students were “shocked to learn their university had ‘declined’ the proposed event.”
In the post, he lambasted the university’s decision to allow activist and scholar Angela Davis to come to campus in October last year. Weeks before she was set to arrive, the Republican club distributed posters of Davis, saying she was once on the FBI’s most-wanted list for murder and kidnapping, and was a domestic terrorist.
“For Gonzaga to allow someone like Angela Davis to speak – while barring Ben Shapiro from appearing at the invitation of conservative students – is the height of liberal hypocrisy,” Brown wrote in his article. “No one is expecting Shapiro to be teaching on the tenets of the Catholic faith, so Gonzaga’s objections are flatly absurd, especially when one considers Angela Davis somehow passed muster for Gonzaga administrators.”
Multiple requests for comment sent to Shapiro, McDonald and Brown were not immediately answered Thursday.
Shapiro, who is a frequent conservative voice on college campus speaking tours and who’s amassed over 6 million followers on Facebook and Twitter, has become a regular fixture in the debate over freedom of speech on college campuses. He’s often a guest on conservative radio, TV and internet shows, where he criticizes protests by liberals at his and other conservative speakers’ events.
He was also an editor at Breitbart News, a conservative news network widely considered to be aligned with the alt-right. Shapiro left the company in March 2016, which led to a vicious campaign by online trolls, who targeted him with anti-Semitic slurs.
In the midst of violent protests erupting at colleges across the nation, however, the University of California, Berkeley, known for its liberal-leaning student body, last year allowed Shapiro to speak on campus. The school later described the speech as a “successful event.”
Gonzaga University, unlike Berkeley, is a private university.
On Wednesday and again on Thursday Shapiro retweeted several articles on the canceled speech, including one from his own website. He has not commented publicly on the cancellation, other than to say, “Would have loved to come out, gang,” on a Facebook post Wednesday linking the Daily Wire story.
Johnston said she and the club intended to push back at the university and appeal their case. So far, she said she hasn’t heard from anyone in the administration.
“We don’t want to take no for an answer,” she said. “This is something we’re passionate about.”