Penn State Administrators Criticize Proud Boys Founder's Appearance at Campus Event, Say They Can't Stop It – Statecollege.com

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Penn State leaders issued a statement on Tuesday condemning — but not preventing — a speaking event on campus that will feature two controversial speakers on Monday, Oct. 24.
Uncensored America, a registered student organization “dedicated to fighting for freedom of speech,” will host Gavin McInnes, the founder of the Proud Boys — a far-right organization recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. The other speaker, Alex Stein, is a self-proclaimed “professional troll” whose podcast was banned from YouTube for violating hate speech guidelines.
The university statement released on Tuesday is signed by interim Vice President and General Counsel Frank Guadagnino, Vice President of Student Affairs Damon Sims, and Vice Provost of Education Equity Marcus Whitehurst. In it, officials strongly rebuked the upcoming speaking event.
“To be clear, the presence of any speaker on our campuses should not be taken as an endorsement by Penn State, and we can emphatically say that our University neither supports nor condones the vitriolic and hateful language targeting particular groups that has been used by these speakers in the past, which is contrary to the University’s fundamental values of inclusion and mutual respect,” officials wrote in the statement.
Penn State said it is in an “unenviable position of sharing space with individuals whose views differ dramatically” from the values of the university, adding it would take reasonable precautions to protect the safety of those associated with these activities. Under the First Amendment, the university said public schools are obligated to protect expressive rights — even those that may be offensive to others.
“While the past statements and actions of these speakers are alarming and can elicit strong reactions from our community, we must continue to uphold the right to free speech — even speech we find abhorrent — because Penn State fully supports the fundamental right of free speech,” the statement reads. “To do otherwise not only violates the Constitution but would erode the basic freedom each of us shares to think and express ourselves as we wish.”
The University Park Allocation Committee (UPAC) independently chose to fund the event using student fee dollars. The committee approved a $7,522 budget at its Sept. 6 meeting that will cover the event’s costs, including airfare. In the meeting’s notes, a member wrote “it is important as Penn State has a diverse range of thoughts (no matter the disagreements).”
Just as it did when a similar speaker came to campus last fall, Penn State will attempt to offset the speaking event with programming of its own on Oct. 24.
Between 6 and 10 p.m. in Alumni and Heritage Halls, Penn State’s Student Programming Association (SPA) will host a “Together We Are” event. It will include activities, performances, and support resources.
At 6 p.m. in the Freeman Auditorium, Al Tompkins will also host a free hour-long lecture titled “Fighting Truth Decay: How and Why Fakers Fake.” Tompkins is senior faculty at the Poynter Institute and “one of America’s most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches.”
Additionally, there will be a lecture at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, October 18, in the Freeman Auditorium that will discuss the tactics used by groups like Proud Boys. Joan Donovan, research director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University, and author of “Meme Wars: The Untold Story of the Online Battles Upending Democracy in America,” will share her insight.
The Student Committee for Defense and Solidarity is hosting a student-led protest outside the Thomas Building at 6 p.m. on October 24, according to a flyer.
“Resist platforming and paying $5,000 of our money to violent, neofascist Proud Boys Founder Gavin McInnes by SHUTTING HIM DOWN,” the flyer reads.
Last year, Penn Staters similarly responded to controversial speaker Milo Yiannopoulos with a “Love is Louder” protest. Again, the university noted it would not prevent lecturers from speaking on campus. UPAC funded Yiannopoulos’s event with nearly $18,000 in student fees.
More than 800 people have already signed an online petition urging Penn State to cancel Oct. 24’s speaking event.
StateCollege.com’s Matt DiSanto contributed to this report.
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