WAUKESHA – To stop Marquette University students from seeing conservative pundit Ben Shapiro, an official with Marquette University’s Center for Gender and Sexualities Studies tried to encourage people to grab up the free tickets and then not show up.
“I just got off the phone with one of the directors of diversity on campus,” Chrissy Nelson, the center’s program assistant, wrote in a Facebook post first reported by Emily Jashinsky of Young America’s Foundation. “The suggestion I received and will be promoting is to go the mission week events that day, reserve a seat through eventbrite as a student (to take a seat away from someone who would actually go) and not protest the day of.”
The Facebook post has since been deleted. Nelson did not respond to requests for comment.
Shapiro, a nationally syndicated columnist and radio talk show host, was invited by the campus student organization Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). The controversial speaker frequently draws protests, including at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where approximately 20 demonstrators interrupted the speech with insults, chants of “Safety! Safety! Safety!” Campus police just looked on as the protesters repeatedly attempted to disrupt the event.
Marquette University already has a reputation for being inhospitable to free speech. In 2016, the university was on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s list of Ten Worst Universities for Free Speech because of its suspension of Professor John McAdams over a blog post he wrote in November 2014. On Thursday, the case goes before Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge David Hansher, who will consider motions from McAdams’ attorneys and Marquette University for summary judgment in the case.
But Marquette officials are distancing themselves from Nelson’s plan to prevent students from hearing Shapiro speak.
“She does not at all speak for the center or for the university,” Angelique Harris, the director of the center where Nelson is employed, told Wisconsin Watchdog. “That is not at all what we’re doing at the university because we do feel and do believe in freedom of speech, etc. And so she’s being reprimanded and we’re dealing with her internally.”
Harris also said she had “no idea” who gave Nelson the idea. “Again, this is just a staff member posting on social media about stuff that I am not aware of taking place or happening, or that other university officials are aware of either,” Harris said.
Brian Dorrington, the Marquette’s senior director of communication, explained in a statement to the Marquette Wire, “We have addressed this issue internally and will work to make sure that interested attendees have an opportunity to see Ben Shapiro on February 8.”
Organizers of the sold-out event believed that the ticket grab by protesters that Nelson advocated will not be effective and that students would be able to see Shapiro. The organizers were going to screen for those people who said online that they planned to protest the event.
“We are pretty confident that those people will be kept out,” said Joe Diamond, a student at Marquette and the recruitment director for YAF on campus. “And then anyone who wanted to get in, that otherwise would not have been able to get in, will be let in.”
In response to President Donald Trump’s executive order restricting immigration from seven countries identified by the Obama administration as possible sources of terrorism, Marquette issued a statement saying, “We are steadfast in our commitment to serve all as a welcoming learning community that is open to people from a wide variety of backgrounds, perspectives and national origins.”
Shapiro’s appearance and the expected backlash from the campus left will test that commitment from Marquette on Wednesday night.