Administrators at California State University, Los Angeles, tried canceling a speaking event by conservative commentator Ben Shapiro earlier this year. The university quickly gained national attention as students, parents, alumni and members of the media criticized the decision as stomping on free speech.
Shapiro ended up speaking at Cal State anyway on Feb. 25, but Black Lives Matter and other campus social justice organizations attempted to shut down the event by pulling the fire alarm in the auditorium where the conservative journalist was lecturing.
“Where the f*** is the administration on this campus?” he asked the audience after the alarm was pulled. “Where the hell is the administration on this campus?”
Over the weekend, conservative news site Heat Street released emails surrounding the campus controversy obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
According to the more than 1,000 emails, administrators at Cal State L.A. received complaints from students comparing the event to an “undercover KKK meeting” and claiming they feared for their safety.
Five days before Shapiro delivered his lecture titled, “When Diversity Becomes a Problem,” a student, whose name was redacted, emailed President William Covino, writing in the subject line, “I DO NOT FEEL SAFE!”
“The fact that so many right wing conservatives that own guns RSVPd to this event makes me feel extremely uncomfortable,” the student wrote. “We should be able to go to an event without worrying about our safety. And frankly this event sounds like an undercover KKK meeting. This event in general speaks volumes as to how little our lives matter ...”
More than two months before Shapiro visited the school, Dean of the College of Natural and Social Sciences Scott Bowman sent a Dec. 7, 2015, email to administrators, including university President Covino, to let them know a conservative group on campus planned to invite Shapiro to speak.
“I think the students have the right to hear what he has to say,” Bowman said, mentioning that he had listened to Shapiro’s earlier address at the University of Missouri. “On the other hand, it could be explosive in the current environment. Nothing he says is hate speech in my view but his critiques of the Left’s obsession with micro-aggressions and various tactics of groups (e.g., Black Lives Matter) would be labeled racist by them, which is his point, by the way.”
In May, Covino hosted a “healing space” meeting to brainstorm ways the university could block speakers like Shapiro from visiting the school in the future.
A video of the event shows Covino emphatically declaring he would “never” invite Shapiro to speak on campus, adding that students invited the conservative pundit and funded the event.
During the same session, professor Melinda Abdullah, chair of the college’s Pan-African Studies department, told Covino she likened Shapiro to an advocate of “anti-blackness” and referred to him as a “neo-Nazi” — which she said is “ironic” because he’s Jewish.
“I get he’s Jewish, so that’s ironic that I’m calling him a neo-Nazi,” she said, “but that’s basically what he is. A neo-KKK member — let’s call him that.”