Editorial: Why we should listen to the message behind the Ben Shapiro lawsuit

Higher education should be a landscape in which open discourse is supported.

by Daily Editorial Board

Young America’s Foundation, Students for a Conservative Voice and conservative speaker Ben Shapiro are suing the University of Minnesota for discrimination and violation of First Amendment rights after Shapiro’s February speaking event was relocated to a smaller venue on the St. Paul campus, with the University citing as security reasons as its motive. This lawsuit is evidence that conservative students feel disrespected and marginalized on campuses. As a University, we should ensure that conservative students feel heard and seen, regardless of whether or not the relocation of Shapiro’s event was an act of discrimination. Considering the fact that the University of California Berkeley had to spend over half a million dollars on security when hosting Shapiro, the University of Minnesota being swayed by a “heckler’s veto,” as YAF claimed, isn’t terribly surprising. It’s no secret that the University of Minnesota is a largely left-leaning campus, and its vitriol against right-wingers has been especially intense since the Trump administration took office. 

College campuses might feel the need to protect inclusive, progressive spaces in an age when bigotry influences both our elected officials and our culture at-large. But in our attempts to create inclusive spaces, are colleges discriminating against anyone who might be considered less than liberal? The filing of this lawsuit by a conservative student group at the University might spur us to reckon with the fact that conservative students feel dismissed, even discriminated against, at our school. As much as our student body wants to create a campus in which inclusivity and acceptance are prioritized, more should be done to extend that sentiment to those whose politics are right of center. 

The goal of this, ultimately, should be to create a campus environment in which ideas can be discussed freely and openly. Higher education should serve as an example to the rest of the country as to how we can communicate civilly and respectfully with one another, engaging with the ideas of those who think differently than us, without resorting to reactionary anger and resentment.

Clinging to an “us versus them” mentality is not the path to resolving political friction on our campus. In fact, it will in all likelihood only radicalize each side that much more; there will be no consensus or even conversation, just increasingly hostile behavior that will further broaden the abyss between conservatives and liberals, deepening our echo chambers and reinforcing unchallenged beliefs.

Conservative students have as much of a right to express their views without institutional suppression, and we can do better in listening and responding. A top priority of higher education should be open discourse and to support spaces in which that’s possible. The fact that only around 80 people showed up to peacefully protest the Shapiro event should be evidence enough that our student body can handle ideas that are different or even offensive to their own. There’s a growing base of people, largely on the conservative end of the political spectrum, loudly decrying higher education. Actions like the one by the University will only fuel the conservative fire against colleges and universities. We can either live in a country in which we are segregated by our political beliefs, or one in which we can accept the responsibility we have to listen to and respect one another.