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Violent campus protests challenge core American values

An appearance on Feb. 1 by Milo Yiannopoulos, an infamous member of the alt-right movement and former Breitbart editor, turned the UC Berkeley campus into a site for protest against Yiannopoulos. The protests eventually turned to a few on the campus attacking those waiting to hear Yiannopoulos’ speech.

The response from Berkeley residents is not only representative of the hatred and divisive climate that currently exists in our country, but also of a greater trend which has gripped college campuses across the nation.

Yiannopoulos was scheduled to give a speech on campus, but it was canceled after student protests against the ideas he represented turned violent.


Around 150 people were blamed for the violence that erupted, but these people were not associated with the university, according to the university.

In recent years, there has been an ongoing debate over the value of safe spaces and trigger warnings on campuses, as we dispute whether certain minority groups should be protected from potential discrimination, or if these safe spaces are simply a way to shield childish university students from any ideas that differ from their own.

Yiannopoulos’ invitation to campus and the resulting protests are both an issue of protecting the free speech of our citizens and of exposing citizens to the fact that there are people who have ideas different than theirs.

Yiannopoulos’ ideas are outlandish, but equally outlandish is the idea that when we encounter people with ideas that are different from our own we should try to silence those people, or even, in Berkeley’s case, respond with violence.

We associate many things with a stereotypical college experience: living away from home, meeting new people or tailgating at football games.

However, one aspect of the college experience that seems to have become lost over the years is the prospect that, by going to college, we leave the bubble we grew up in and instead begin to interact with people very different from ourselves.

Instead, some college students have begun to do everything in their power to maintain that sheltered life we enjoy leading up to college in an attempt to cover ourselves with a blanket of ideas that directly mirror our own.

When asked about the growth of safe spaces on college campuses, former president Barack Obama said this:

“Anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with them, but you shouldn’t silence them by saying you can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.”

As a country, we want to protect everyone’s equal rights, which includes the free speech of all Americans. Yiannopoulos has spent much of his career testing the boundaries of the field of free speech, but he still has rights.

His comments about minority groups are often considered to be hate speech, but even hate speech is protected by our laws of free speech as long as it does not incite violence against the groups being spoken about.

If anything, violent protest is one of the worst ways to respond to people with radical views because it simply magnifies and gives greater popularity to these people and their ideas.

In the same way that protestors are entitled to and utilize their right to assembly, Yiannopoulos and his followers are entitled to their right to believe what they want and to spread their message to those who are willing to listen.

These universities do not need to be punished through the removal of federal funds as President Trump suggested, the violence of a few at the protests is not representative of the whole university and most were simply peacefully protesting.

Rather, students and those involved in the protests need to realize the hypocrisy of trying to protect one group of people’s rights while simultaneously hindering another group’s ability to practice theirs.

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About the Contributor
Jason Fieber, Author