Students at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) were sent into an almost hysterical state due to a recent visit by conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos.
Yiannopoulos visited Pitt Monday night as part of his ongoing “Most Dangerous Faggot” tour that is taking him to numerous campuses in the U.S. and around the world. He’s known for his acerbic rhetoric, and Monday’s event was no exception.
“I’ve taken it upon myself to go through life as offensively as possible,” Yiannopoulos quipped during the event, according to The Pitt News. In addition to promoting free speech (the main purpose of his appearance), Yiannopoulos referred to those who believe in a gender pay gap as “idiots,” described feminists as “man-haters,” and accused Black Lives Matter of being a black-supremacist group. Many protested the speech, including 17 who police escorted out peacefully for disrupting the event.
But in the aftermath of Yiannopoulos’ visit, many liberal students found themselves struggling to come to terms with an event they deemed “unsafe” and even “violent.” Hundreds of students attended a meeting of Pitt’s student government to express their distress that the event was allowed to go forward in the first place.
“I felt I was in danger, and I felt so many people in that room were in danger,” student Marcus Robinson said of the non-violent event. “This event erased the great things we’ve done … For the first time, I’m disappointed to be at Pitt.”
Robinson faulted school officials for not providing a room next door staffed with counselors that could provide emotional support for students “traumatized” or “invalidated” by Yiannopoulos’ speech.
Many students argued Yiannopoulos had engaged in “hate speech” and therefore should never have been allowed a public platform in the first place. One even said that despite the lack of any physical attacks, the event was still “real violence” against liberal students.
“This is more than hurt feelings, this is about real violence,” said student Claire Matway. “We know that the violence against marginalized groups happens every day in this country. That so many people walked out of that [event] feeling in literal physical danger is not all right.”
At least one member of Pitt’s student government, moved to tears by student accounts of their ordeal, suggested she would be willing to work on revising the school’s allocation process so that future triggering events could be prevented.
But that may be impossible, due to Pitt’s status as a public school. As the student government itself noted in a press release after Yiannopoulos’s speech, the Supreme Court case Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System v. Southworth holds that schools must be entirely viewpoint-neutral when it comes to funding campus groups and events. Any other policy amounts to discriminating against certain types of speech, a violation of the First Amendment.
In addition to calls for censorship, Yiannopoulos’ speech also resulted in several Pitt groups hosting an official “safe space” event Thursday night, where 100 students talked through their feelings. What was said by students there is not clear; while The Pitt News attended the event, it did not quote students in attendance because of the event’s status as a “safe space.” Several counselors were in attendance to provide help to any students who felt they needed it.
It’s not the first time a campus has been rocked by a Yiannopoulos visit. Recently, the LGBT student center at the University of Michigan provided a special safe space to shelter students from a debate that pitted him against a controversial feminist.
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