Maybe the coolest Halloween costume on campuses this fall will be dressing up as Ben Shapiro.
Because apparently that’s about the scariest thing a college student can encounter.
Shapiro, a conservative commentator and writer, is set to give a speech at University of California, Berkeley next Thursday. If you know anything about Berkeley, you’re aware that it’s unlikely there’s much agreement, either from students or locals, with Shapiro’s conservative viewpoint.
If we lived in a sane world, that would mean Shapiro would be giving a speech in front of half a dozen College Republicans, wearing bow ties to be countercultural—and everyone else would just ignore that he was coming.
However, we live in a world where apparently speech you disagree with can be traumatizing. Here’s what Paul Alivisatos, UC Berkeley’s executive vice chancellor and provost, writes in his memo about Shapiro’s talk:
Support and counseling services for students, staff and faculty
We are deeply concerned about the impact some speakers may have on individuals’ sense of safety and belonging. No one should be made to feel threatened or harassed simply because of who they are or for what they believe. For that reason, the following support services are being offered and encouraged:
Um … what?
Shapiro, if you’re not familiar with him, is a fairly mainstream conservative speaker. Yeah, he can push buttons—which is probably one reason he’s so popular with college students. But he’s hardly some way-out-of-touch radical.
So, I reached out to UC Berkeley to inquire what specifically Shapiro had said that led them to be “deeply concerned about the impact some speakers may have on individuals’ sense of safety and belonging.”
In an emailed response, Dan Mogulof, assistant vice chancellor at the university’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs, wrote: “The sentence you cite does not identify a specific speaker, and that is by design. We are not aware of anything Mr. Shapiro has said that would necessarily lead someone to fear for their safety, or question the degree to which they belong to our campus community.”
So, I wrote back, asking whether there were any examples of announcements including offers of counseling available to students because of appearances by liberal speakers. After all, if nothing Shapiro had said was an issue, surely there were past examples of this?
Here’s what Mogulof emailed back:
In the 13 years I have been here we have not seen on this campus any violence or mayhem in support of, or opposition to any speakers other than Mr. [Milo] Yiannopoulos last February… and that, to tell you the truth, was a first for us. So, this sort of communication has not been needed previously. However, the sentence you cite was specifically formulated to address the expressed concerns of all students, including our conservative students who have told us they are worried not about the speakers headed our way but, rather, by the possibility that members of the antifa paramilitary group will return to the campus. I can assure you that if, in the future, we hear concerns in advance of ANY other speaker coming our way we will issue a similar communication. We care for our students without regard for their beliefs.
I don’t know. Maybe UC Berkeley is simply listening to students. But even if it’s student-driven, it’s concerning: Why is there such fear from students about people on the right speaking?
And it’s a little hard to swallow that it’s conservative students seeking counseling over Antifa. Given Antifa’s propensity for violence, it seems more likely a student would want protection, not counseling. And as far as Antifa goes … Well, let’s hope if they create violence and destruction again, UC Berkeley’s police department manages to make more than two arrests as they did after the violence in February.
Look, ideas you don’t agree with can be unpleasant. I don’t think Norma McCorvey was probably thrilled the first time something a pro-lifer said got under her skin—but it later led to her, despite being Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade, becoming a pro-lifer herself.
There is no doubt some Americans were deeply irritated and upset when Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” But he was right that America needed to change.
The solution for college students—and anyone—who find an idea painful and upsetting is to think about why and to consider the idea. If the idea is wrong or hateful or immoral, then, great, discard it—and debate the heck out of those who hold it. But if an idea is right and true, and the upset you’re feeling is a pang of conscience, that’s something different—and something that shouldn’t be undesirable.
College especially should be a place where intellectual and moral debates flourish, where students aggressively read and listen to others’ arguments, consider them, and then make their own cases. Don’t demand a counselor when a speaker you think is wrong comes to campus—go and debate them! Ask a tough question! Write an op-ed in the student newspaper showing the mistakes the speaker is making. Protest peacefully!
Ideas can hurt, it’s true. But the worst fate isn’t being troubled by another person’s idea: It’s settling for intellectual and moral stagnation, refusing to ever encounter any ideas besides the ones you currently hold.