This Monday, Penn State student-run organization Uncensored America will host Gavin McInnes, founder of the Proud Boys, and Alex Stein, comedian and BlazeTV contributor, at University Park for “Stand Back and Stand By” — a “politically provocative comedy night.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies the Proud Boys, which is exclusively male, as an “extremist” hate group known for its white nationalist and alt-right ties, as well as misogynistic rhetoric.
The Proud Boys "instigated critical breaches" of the Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack last year, according to the New York Times, and now the group is "at the center of criminal and congressional investigations” surrounding the attack. It has even been recognized as a terrorist group in Canada and New Zealand.
While it’s extremely disappointing that the founder of this organization is set to speak at Penn State, it’s really not surprising.
Last year, Uncensored America invited Milo Yiannopoulos to campus for a “Pray the Gay Away” event. Yiannopoulos identifies as an “ex-gay,” who strongly supports conversion therapy, which attempts to change the sexual orientation of people. Conversion therapy for minors is banned in 14 states.
The Penn State and State College communities were vocal with their disapproval of Yiannopoulos coming to the university — and rightfully so.
After McInnes’ arrival was announced, students once again pleaded for the university to shut down the event. However, Penn State said the event will still be held in order to “share space with individuals whose views differ dramatically” from the university’s values.
In a statement, the university said “the presence of any speaker on our campuses should not be taken as an endorsement by Penn State, and we can emphatically say that our university neither supports nor condones the vitriolic and hateful language targeting particular groups that has been used by these speakers in the past.”
According to the university, Uncensored America has the “undeniable constitutional right” to sponsor the presentation on campus, and student organizations have the right to select the speakers they invite to campus — without endorsement from Penn State.
“Student organizations operate independent of the university and are free to sponsor programs or speakers of their choosing without censorship,” the release said.
However, the university must at least send a message out to the Penn State community detailing security measures that will be in place to ensure everyone feels safe on Monday.
Since there seems to be no indication that a cancellation will happen since the event is quickly approaching, the Penn State community can only control its reaction to the event at this point.
While the objective of Uncensored America may not just be to elicit a reaction out of the Penn State community, getting attention does seem to be a huge factor when it’s selecting speakers.
Students must recognize this and not give Uncensored America the reaction it’s seeking. Constantly talking about the event on social media is helping to provide the reaction it wants.
The Student Committee for Defense and Solidarity started a petition demanding Penn State’s administration deny Uncensored America permission to sponsor and platform McInnes, as well as go to court if it has to in order to uninvite him.
The petition also demanded the money that would’ve been spent on Uncensored America’s event be given instead to student groups that can educate students on how to change university policy to stop the spread of potential future far-right extremism on Penn State’s campus.
The SCDS has also planned a protest titled “Stand Up, Fight Back” on Monday, with the objective to deny McInnes funding and a platform.
Penn State has encouraged students to attend two other events planned the same evening — “Together We Are,” hosted by the Student Programming Association in the HUB-Robeson Center, and a public lecture titled “Fighting Truth Decay: How and Why Fakers Fake,” where Al Tompkins will speak in the HUB’s Freeman Auditorium.
“The best response to hateful speech is inclusive speech,” the release said.
Though it may seem performative to organize counter-events in the face of hateful rhetoric, these events recognize that students are upset and give them an opportunity to come together.
However, it’s important to uplift these types of large-scale events all year long. In the future, if student groups like Uncensored America bring in a speaker who will cause fear, students will be able to trust that the university values inclusion first and foremost.
Students must continue to attend and promote uplifting events moving forward to draw attention away from the platform Uncensored America is seeking to use for its promotion of hateful rhetoric on Penn State’s campus.
Daily Collegian Opinion Editor Kit Schroder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.