In response to ongoing pressure by student groups and local activist organizations looking to “shut down” the Friday visit by Milo Yiannopoulos, acting UNM President Chaouki Abdallah offered his two cents in his weekly University-wide communique, explaining in the process why he is not electing to cancel the event.
Abdallah doesn’t mince words when discussing Yiannopoulos’ rhetoric in the emailed message. Without referring to him by name – but instead “controversial speaker” – Abdallah suggests that the conservative Breitbart writer will distribute messages that contrast the University’s mission.
“He will use the platform to personally denigrate specific members of our campus, to sow division and to attack many values that we hold dear,” he wrote.
Several student groups – including MEChA, Black Student Union and KIVA Club – sent a statement to University administration last week declaring their opposition to Yiannapoulos and his rhetoric, and condemning the event. They followed that up by meeting with Abdallah and other officials for further discussion.
In his email that was sent on Monday, Abdallah said he has been asked to ban Yiannopoulos from coming to campus. Instead, he has chosen “to protect the values enshrined in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights and in the University’s mission, rather than shy away from a fight between truth and falsehoods.”
The message encapsulates the root of the division between proponents and opponents of the Friday event, which will be held in the SUB ballroom. Groups like the Red Nation have made it clear that they plan on “taking the stage and the mic” to essentially shut down the event, while the University’s conservative community has said that different types discussion are important, no matter how uncomfortable.
Abdallah leans toward the latter argument in his message, saying that his decision to allow the event to continue reinforces “the role of the university as a public square for the competition between truth and lies,” later adding that such a competition is especially important to participate in, given the political situation on a national level.
Abdallah also stressed that while not much can be done on the University’s side to shield students from hearing hateful speech – whether on Friday or any other day – any acts of harassment or discrimination “will be investigated and, if found to violate our campus policies, perpetrators will be dealt with swiftly.”
He ends the message by stating that his job as acting president “is to make sure that the fight between truth and falsehood is a fair fight.”
David Lynch is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.