Student conservatives feel quieted by UMN’s handling of Shapiro event

Ben Shapiro will speak at the North Star Ballroom on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus on Monday night.

Carter Blochwitz

Ahead of Ben Shapiro’s speech on campus next week, conservative student groups at the University of Minnesota say the school’s choice to move the event away from its main campus sets a bad precedent.

Several conservative leaders on campus have been understanding of the University’s effort to keep the event safe, but believe the decision caters to far-left protesters.

“I think they’re making the wrong decision based on their [safety] stance,” said Jacob Strinden, chairman of College Republicans at the University of Minnesota. “Pushing us out instead of dealing with the underlying problems of hard left-wing violence.”

Strinden said the October protest of conservative speaker Lauren Southern was an example of violent protests against conservatives.

The protest of Southern’s event drew nearly 200 demonstrators and resulted in riot police mobilization and an arrest.

During a press conference earlier this month, University Relations Vice President Matt Kramer dismissed claims of anti-conservative bias in the administration’s decision to move the location of Shapiro’s talk to the North Star Ballroom on the St. Paul campus.

“I have seen remarks that St. Paul is ‘exile,’” Kramer said at the press conference. “St. Paul campus is integral to the University of Minnesota. It is no different than the East Bank or the West Bank campus.”

Though Strinden doesn’t claim direct bias from the University administration, he said security fees and lack of control over location make it difficult for conservative groups to organize and invite speakers to campus.

“We’ve met with [University administration] and they’re nice enough people. They’re not intentionally trying to push us off campus,” Strinden said. “But they put us through the ringer to make [these events] happen.”

Aside from difficulties with the administration, conservatives on campus have been met with a chilly campus climate.

Strinden said members of College Republicans received death threats last year.

“We get messages that are not kind,” said Madison Dibble, editor-in-chief of the Minnesota Republic. “And I wasn’t scared [a year ago], but I was scared during the Lauren Southern event.”

Braxton Haake, president of College Democrats at the University of Minnesota, believes the administration isn’t discriminating against conservative speakers in its decision to relocate Ben Shapiro.

“I think the administration is doing everything it can to strike a conciliatory tone,” Haake said. “It is trying to ensure the safety of the speakers and the conservative students that want to see them speak.” 

Haake said campus consists of mostly liberals, adding he feels sympathy for conservative groups.

“If 90 percent of the administration was conservative — I might suspect there was some bias,” Haake said.

Haake, Dibble and Strinden all said they believe outside agitators are the root of violence at protests on campus.

“There were plenty of students present [at the Lauren Southern event] peacefully protesting. But there seemed to be some sort of contingent of outside agitators — Antifa members — and those were the people that were causing the protest to turn south,” Haake said.

Strinden said conservative students should be able to enjoy the event considering its partial funding from student service fees.