The University of Michigan's libertarian and conservative students held a debate on free speech and feminism featuring conservative media personality Milo Yiannopoulos and leftist activist Julie Bindel last night. Their views are apparently so terrifying that the campus's Spectrum Center—an LGBT awareness group—provided a safe space for students who felt "threatened" by the debate.
It's a tad ironic that a gay group would feel the need to protect gay students from Yiannopoulos and Bindel—both of whom identify as LGBT. While it's certainly true that venomously anti-gay gay people exist, humoring the idea that Yiannopoulos and Bindel represent some kind of existential threat to anyone is indulging in hysteria.
Nevertheless, the Spectrum Center touted its "supportive alternative space" in a statement on the university's website:
It has come to our attention that an event titled, "Does Feminism Have a Free Speech Problem?" is taking place this evening on our campus. We recognize that the rhetoric of the speakers featured in this event is incredibly harmful to many members of our campus community. The Spectrum Center will be providing a supportive alternative space this evening and holding extended staffed hours until 9pm. There will be no program; our intent is to offer a relaxing, positive space for students who want to gather in community.
Yiannopoulos and Bindel have made controversial, even offensive statements (Bindel once joked about putting men in camps). I have no doubt they did so at the event last night as well. Would it not have been a more useful exercise for students who despise them to actually attend the event, rather than cowering in fear in a so-called safe space? There was a Q and A period. Critics could have pushed back against Yiannopoulos and Bindel. Some kind of genuine learning, or exchange of ideas, might have taken place.
I don't know how else to ask this: Students, if you don't want to engage people with whom you disagree, why are you in college?
Regarding the event itself, it's interesting to note that the speakers were temporarily interrupted by a protester storming the stage. Supporters of Yiannopoulos responded by chanting, "Trump!" Indeed, "Students for Trump" flyers adorned the chairs of the event.
In a subsequent interview with Reason, event organizer Hunter Swogger explained, "They both have checkered pasts, but I hope attendees will now see how these controversies surrounding them were mainly just borne out of them screwing around, being comedians. They love making people laugh, they love making each other laugh and they don't take themselves too seriously."*
Seems like good evidence to support my thesis that a lot of Trump's supporters aren't actually interested in his policies—rather, they are signaling their enthusiasm for the anti-political correctness spectacle he is performing. As Yiannopoulos told me, "Trump's becoming an icon of irreverent resistance to political correctness. It's why people like him."
*This post has been updated. I replaced a disputed, second-hand quote with a direct quote from the source.