While walking on a quiet evening, I noticed a series of posters plastered to walls and windows. The first was a notice posted by Students for a Democratic Society about a protest of Monday’s Ben Shapiro event. The second was an appeal, which quoted various legal documents, asking students to support free speech and let Shapiro speak. This incensed me. After parsing the issue with some fellow students, I realized why. It’s not because I disagree with the decision to bring him to campus, though I do personally feel it was a misuse of University of Minnesota funds. It was because of the dangerous flaws in the argument made by the poster that supported Shapiro’s event in defense of free speech.
Whether Shapiro speaks on campus is not a free speech issue. It never has been. What the parties in this argument seem to forget is that free speech only entitles a person to express their beliefs. It does not entitle anyone to a platform. The University does not have the inherent responsibility to give any group space to speak. It chooses to, in the spirit of complex discourse and because it has an agreement as a public institution to encourage all intellectual pursuits (whether listening to Shapiro is even an intellectual pursuit is an entirely other debate). Every request for funding or meeting space must be vetted and approved by the University. It is a privilege, not a right. To claim otherwise suggests a gross sense of entitlement.
Furthermore, a person or group's right to free speech is not infringed by counter protest. You can espouse any belief you want to whomever you want, and your constitution will and should protect you. But that doesn't mean you have the right to stop others from expressing their disapproval in any means they feel appropriate, or to force others to listen to you. Don't cry censorship if all you're encountering is a vocal response to a public stance. You can have concerns about institutional bias and object to differences in funding or resources, but if you expect or force others to provide support, funds and space, you become the very oppressors you fear.
This letter has been lightly edited for clarity and style.
Elizabeth Kristian is junior majoring in Sociology at the University of Minnesota.