A series of posters on campus promoting UCI College Republicans’ and Young Americans for Liberty’s upcoming event, “Social Justice is Cancer” hosted by conservative journalist Milo Yiannopoulos, drew complaints last week from students and administration who claimed that the language on the posters condoned “bigotry.”
The handmade posters contained such messages as “If you can take a dick, you can take a joke” and “Make America gay again,” as well as the word “faggotry,” which many students claimed constituted a display of homophobia.
College Republicans of UCI say that the language chosen for the posters was pulled from direct quotes by the planned speaker, Milo Yiannopoulos, a gay man himself who is noted for his controversial conservative stances on social justice issues. His speaking engagement at UCI, slated for June 2, is part of his self-titled “Most Dangerous Faggot Tour” through which he has already appeared at universities nationwide.
Douglas Haynes, UCI’s Vice Provost for Academic Equity, Diversity and Inclusion released an email entitled “Bigotry has no place at UCI” to the UC Irvine student body on May 9, condemning the posters and encouraging students to attend “safe zone training” to “strengthen bonds of community.”
“Homophobia – as well as other forms of bias – contradicts our campus’s enduring commitment to inclusive excellence,” said Haynes in the email. “Let me be clear: bigotry has no place here or anywhere.”
Haynes suggests that students affected by the posters can attend the LGBT Resource Center’s Safe Zone Training, which provides education, resources and ally networks to students.
Ariana Rowlands, President of UCI College Republicans, denies the administration’s accusation of bigotry, and claims that the posters were designed to evoke debate and discussion, not to incite hate and violence.
“We believe that everyone has a right to freedom of expression and a right to voice their opinion without being told that it is inherently wrong,” said Rowlands. “[We] draw the line at speech that is intended to cause immediate violence…the posters created to promote the event were provocative in nature and were intended to elicit a wide variety of reactions and did their job stupendously.”
George Novshadyan, former President-elect of College Republicans, claims that the club’s defense of the posters’ “free speech” is hypocritical considering their response to similar issues in the past. He cites his own dismissal from College Republicans in March over a publicized series of offensive Facebook comments he posted. Novshadyan says that in this instance, the College Republicans condemned his language rather than supporting the concept of “free speech” as they are with the Yiannopoulos posters.
“What I find hypocritical is when I was under fire, the current President (then Vice-President elect) encouraged me to apologize and not to speak with outside media…I apologized five times and spoke with outside media, after which the President at the time and the current President decided to write an official apology by the club for my actions and had an Executive Order written that nullified my election as President,” said Novshadyan. “Now that they are under fire for something much worse than I did, they claim free speech, as I did, and refuse to apologize.”
Novshadyan says that he is not opposed to the event itself, but rather the inconsistency of College Republicans’ stance against “political correctness” and their alleged attempts to silence internal dissent over the issue.
Rowlands maintains that UCI College Republicans has a history of promoting free speech, and that the posters are a testament to their dismissal of “political correctness.”
“College Republicans at UCI encourages political debate between those of all ideologies, and seeks to create a well-informed, better-educated, more politically active student body,” said Rowlands.