Op-Ed: Liberal Snowflakes Fight Back

All opinions expressed are those of the author, not of Her Campus at UCD or Her Campus at a whole. 

On the evening of Friday the 13th, Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos and “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli were scheduled to speak on campus. It never actually happened.

According to Yiannopoulos, it was because of “violence from left-wing protesters.” He wrote on Facebook that “there are reports of hammers, smashed windows, and barricades being torn away” as well as multiple arrests. Later that night, Interim Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter released a statement and clarified that there had been no property damage, and only one arrest had been made. He did, however, echo the sentiment that the protesters were to blame: “The decision [to cancel] was made… after a large number of protesters blocked access to the venue, and it was determined that it was no longer feasible to continue with the event safely.”

My question is, what about the event was expected to be safe at all? Yiannopoulos and Shkreli were both banned from Twitter because for harassment — and the textbook definition of harrasment is aggressive pressure or intimidation. The very name of Yiannopoulos’ tour includes the word “dangerous.” As a self-professed “supervillain of the Internet,” he seems to get a thrill out of provoking people until they burst. Once they do, Milo can once again take to his social media platforms to shake his head sadly at how delicate “liberal snowflakes” are. More alarmingly, he has a history of inciting targeted hate campaigns against particular individuals, mainly women and minorities. 

That’s exactly why I almost didn’t want to show up to the protest on Friday, because I knew that by doing so I’d be giving him the attention he lives for. And I was scared, too. I’m scared of people like him — hateful, spiteful white supremacists — and I worried that many like him would be at the event. But I showed up anyway, with my friends standing on either side of me, because more than anything, I was angry.

I’m still angry and sad, and I feel utterly, overwhelmingly let down. Cheated. In the same statement where he declared no property damage, Hexter said that he was “deeply disappointed” with the events of the evening, apparently alluding to fact that protesters could not respect views that were “upsetting or even offensive.” Deeply disappointed? Well, same. I’m deeply disappointed in my interim chancellor.

In a letter addressed to UC Davis faculty who were rightfully concerned about their students, Hexter claimed that “we’ve reviewed how Milo Yiannopoulos’ events have played out at other campuses and are prepared to de-escalate potential incidents.” This tells me that on some level, the university’s administration expected some violence. It tells me that they knew something was bound to happen that night. So tell me: why did they let it? Because if the administration had looked into Yiannopoulos' events on other campuses, then they must have known that on one previous stop on his college tour, he actually singled out and outed a specific transgender student without provocation. Considering the high risk of violence that transgender people face, such an act is not only hateful but potentially dangerous--and yet, UCD was willing to risk the chance of similar hateful actions targeting students here?  

In the same letter, Hexter also claims that he is mindful of advice from the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU writes: "Where racist, sexist and homophobic speech is concerned, the ACLU believes that more speech - not less - is the best revenge. This is particularly true at universities, whose mission is to facilitate learning through open debate and study, and to enlighten...When hate is out in the open, people can see the problem. Then they can organize effectively to counter bad attitudes, possibly change them, and forge solidarity against the forces of intolerance."

With this in mind, then, how can Hexter be deeply disappointed in the protesters? We did what the ACLU recommended, and used speech as our revenge. Hate was out in the open, and we organized effectively to counter it. We even engaged in open debate. I heard a ticket-holder for the Milo event ask: “Can I have a discussion with you?” to a protester. “Yes,” they said calmly. For the next fifteen minutes I saw their heads bowed in conversation. There was no yelling, no name-calling. There was nothing disrespectful about it.

What was disrespectful was Yiannopoulos’ shameful re-enactment of the UC Davis pepper spray incident on the day after his event was cancelled. People put their bodies on the line that day, and they did on January 13, 2017 too. And though Hexter said he “would stand proudly with the members of this community who oppose the spread of fear and intolerance,” I didn’t see him at the protest that night, and as far as I know, he wasn’t at any of the other spaces organized by and for members for the UC Davis community: an improv show, a talk with Kevin Samy about dog whistle politics, a talk with Cece McDonald and Franchesca Ramsey, and more. He simply did not show up. He didn’t engage. It’s one thing to claim that you have resources for transgender students on campus — that might be true, but it sounds like it belongs on a brochure. What matters more is what’s put into practice. What matters more is that community and campus leaders show up.

And if interim chancellor Hexter thinks that protesters refuse to engage with ideas that oppose their own, he would be wrong. For the next four or more years, we will engage with ideas that radically oppose our own, on campus, in the community and on the national stage. Trump supporters like Milo Yiannopoulos and his followers got what they wanted — Trump became president, and as a result, our country will look almost frighteningly different from what we want it to be. We won’t be quiet about it, though. We’ll show up.

Photos taken by Mariana Huben.