UMass students react poorly to “The Triggering” panel


Hundreds of people piled into Bowker Auditorium at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Monday for the eagerly awaited controversial debate titled, “The Triggering: Has Political Correctness Gone Too Far?” that was hosted by the UMass College Republicans Club.

The debate panel consisted of three guest speakers: Christina Hoff Sommers, an American author and former philosophy professor; Milo Yiannopoulos, a British journalist and entrepreneur; and Steven Crowder, a Canadian-American actor, whose voice you may recognize as Alan “The Brain” Powers from the children’s TV series, “Arthur.”

While it may seem like these guests have very little in common with one another, they were brought together to express the shared belief that political correctness has gone too far.

I decided I was going to attend this event when the GOP club first announced it at the end of March. When they had officially announced the event on Facebook, hundreds of comments began to flood the event page, and the majority of those comments were extremely hostile toward the club and the event.

Going into the event a month later, I didn’t know what to expect, but knew for sure that there were going to be some angry people there.

I walked into the auditorium with every intention to be an unbiased, open-minded listener. As an emotional person with strong beliefs of my own, this doesn’t come easy, and sometimes it even feels outright impossible.

I stand in solidarity with the feminist movement. I believe it is reasonable for people to be warned about potentially traumatic content through the use of trigger warnings. I, like many UMass students, hope for “a future to believe in.”

But I always keep an open mind.

I’ve attended other events hosted by the College Republicans Club, but have never witnessed this degree of hate at any event before.

And it wasn’t coming from the panel.

Excited students ready to protest were scattered throughout the auditorium, some sitting directly in front of the stage, others hanging over the edge of the balcony. Students first booed when the GOP club president and mediator of the event, Kyle Boyd, was introduced and entered the stage. I was immediately disturbed by this, asking myself how anyone could jeer at a fellow UMass student based solely on his affiliation with the Republican club.

This type of immediate rejection, rooted in assumptions about a particular person based on his or her political affiliation, reminds me of something.

It sounds a lot like something we all agree is wrong: prematurely judging people based on assumptions because of the “box” you place them in. Yes, like sexism and racism – the labels that were constantly bursting from the crowd and thrown at the panel.

After many disruptions throughout the event, some protesters were warned about being removed from the venue, and in response, they shouted about their right to free speech. Meanwhile, these same people were shouting over the guest speakers, telling them to “keep your hate speech off this campus.”

The hypocrisy of students persecuting those on stage for exercising their right to free speech, while trying to express theirs, did not go unnoticed.

And this brings us to the main question for the night: are students too sensitive on college campuses?

Before you get so angry with me that you stop reading, let me say that the panel said things that irked me to the bone. I immediately felt hot blood run through my veins after hearing Yiannopoulos’ opening statement: “Feminism is cancer. Thank you very much.”

Yiannopoulos, who is also known as “the Kanye of Journalism” in some corners of the Internet, did not stop there as far as inflammatory statements go. He also displayed a blatant hate of Muslims that was painful for me to bear, as I believe it was for many students, including Boyd, whom as an Operations and Information Management major graduating next month, expressed that he absolutely does not share that sentiment.

While I do condemn any statement that largely stereotypes a group of people, I am able to understand why Yiannopoulos, as an open homosexual, would be disdainful of a group of people who have historically and notoriously outlawed and demoralized his lifestyle.

“Like any set of ideas, Islam is a set of ideas, like any set of ideas, it is – we are perfectly entitled to interrogate it and find it wanting. I personally find it wanting,” Yiannopoulos said. “Fifty-one percent of British Muslims find that gay sex should be against the law. This is not Muslims in Syria, this is not Muslims in Raqqa, this is Muslims who live three streets away from me. Every other one of them believes that my lifestyle should be illegal.”

Sommers received a lot of hate for her statements on third-wave feminists. Sommers hosts a video blog called “The Factual Feminist,” and has written a few books on her views of contemporary feminism. However, she wasn’t really able to deliver the message she was trying to because of those constantly yelling from the crowd.

After Yiannopoulos gave his opening statement, Sommers followed, elaborating on what he said about feminism being cancer.

“I am going to explain, you will be pleased. What Milo meant to say, is that feminism, while being a noble and valiant, courageous movement… there are certain schools of thought that are somewhat unwholesome, right Milo?”

To which Yiannopoulos replied, “No, I meant it’s cancer.”

Sommers later shared her thoughts on today’s feminism. “Contemporary, third-wave campus feminism is not cancer, but madness, utter madness,” she said. “What is not cool, are efforts to censor, to silence, and what really amazes me, is that in their war against intolerance, these campus activists, they are on the extremes of intolerance. They demonize, they other-ize, they attempt to censor.”

Pointing to a screaming person in the crowd, she said, “I demonstrate it here.”

Crowder, who was the last to introduce himself, posted a clip of his introduction at UMass on his official website and the clip now has over a million views on YouTube.

“Now, listen up you silly, liberal fruitcakes. I came out here, I wanted to do some jokes. Let’s do some reality checks here. Do you have any idea, sir, how pathetic it must be to be you? These people wanted to come out and have a good time, hear a few jokes and have a thoughtful discussion but your head pops off the pillow in the morning thinking, ‘how can I be a professional victim today? And let me go in and screw with their act’ because your parents didn’t tell you your opinion wasn’t worth that much,” Crowder said.

It’s really up to the individual to decide whether his jokes are offensive or not. But whatever way you look at it, the reality is that a lot of comedians, more popular and successful than Crowder, make fun of people and their beliefs in a satirical way.

Later in the event, Crowder said, “When someone says something you don’t like, you don’t get to label it as hate speech. That’s it. If I say ‘Hey, I’m going to punch you in the face’ and I do it, that’s not hate speech, that’s an action. If someone says, ‘Gosh, I really don’t like your face and it would be nice if it were punched, but I would never do it,’ is very different. People should be able to say what they want, and if they don’t like it, walk out, change the channel.”

Yiannopoulos also addressed the crowd in response to the constant outbursts: “Why not try one of the great virtues of the Greek philosophers, why not consider the possibility that somebody might have something to add to your view of the world. Why not consider the possibility, the radical notion, that you could be wrong?”

Referring to the panel, Boyd said, “I don’t necessarily agree with everything they said… but they deserve a platform to speak… I think it’s important for people to see how far left people have become and what a threat that is to free speech.”

I can’t help but agree with the idea that people should always keep a listening ear, especially when it comes to opposing views. If you truly want to stand up against something, aren’t you interested in learning all you can about it first, even the parts you don’t agree with?

People carry different opinions, and we have to learn to deal with it.

The Republican club’s “goal is and always has been to add a conservative voice to this college campus” said Boyd, “bringing a conservative voice to campus tends to bring people more in the middle as a balance.”

Talking on behalf of the club, he said, “We were okay with [the protesters] there because it proves our point and it would be hypocritical to remove them because this is what we’re talking about.”

Sometimes people forget that the rights granted under the First Amendment goes both ways. So, are people too sensitive on college campuses?

Perhaps the behavior shown by some of the students at the event says it all.

Email Léa at [email protected].

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