University leaders released the following statement regarding Uncensored America, a recognized student organization at Penn State, inviting Milo Yiannopoulos to speak on the topics of censorship and free speech at University Park on Nov. 3 in Thomas Building.
Milo Yiannopoulos, a media figure affiliated with the alt-right, has been invited by a student organization at Penn State, Uncensored America, to appear at University Park, Nov. 3. Yiannopoulos has a history of remarks that disparage various groups, including the LGBTQ community. His past presentations on the nation’s college campuses have been antithetical to Penn State’s values, and we share the profound dismay others have already expressed in response to his forthcoming appearance here. Even the posters produced by Uncensored America to promote next week’s event, which now are displayed in the HUB-Robeson Center and elsewhere on campus, are troubling and worrisome — though consistent with University policy and Constitutional protections.
Yet as offensive and hurtful as Yiannopoulos’s comments have been and are likely to be again, and despite our own abhorrence for such statements and the promotional tactics used, Uncensored America has the undeniable Constitutional right to sponsor this presentation on our campus. The University lacks the right to do anything to stop it. Student organizations may select the speakers they invite to campus without the University’s endorsement, or even with the University’s displeasure, as is the case here. As a public university, we are fundamentally and unalterably obligated under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment to protect various expressive rights, even for those whose viewpoints offend our basic institutional values. To do otherwise not only violates the Constitution, but would undermine the basic freedom each of us shares to generally think and express ourselves as we wish. A public university cannot impose the risks of censorship on those whose viewpoints it does not like without equally risking censorship for all, including those viewpoints it strongly endorses.
But let us be clear. At his core, Yiannopoulos is a social provocateur — a personality whose central public purpose is to deliberately create controversy, hurt and disruption. That is something we all should recognize. The posters promoting his presentation are largely designed to provoke response. The message is odious and divisive, and we wish we could simply erase it, but we cannot, just as we cannot prevent Yiannopoulos’s appearance next week.
We hope instead that students and other members of our community will avoid being baited into reacting — as Yiannopoulos wishes. Doing otherwise will only ensure the national attention a provocateur craves and upon which his brand of hate is fueled and spread. Instead, if you oppose bigotry, misogyny, transphobia, and anyone who is determined to make their living by dividing us, make that opposition known by uniting against Yiannopoulos in the most effective way possible — by ignoring him. Commit yourself instead to expressing care and support for those who are the object of his hate. Unify as an empathetic, compassionate and thoughtful university community that stands as one, purposeful in its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and in its determination to silence hatemongers by turning our backs on them and denying the attention they seek.
— Steve Dunham, vice president and general counsel
— Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs
— Marcus Whitehurst, vice provost for Educational Equity