It looked like any other upscale dinner. Dressed in business attire, attendees were served complimentary food and dessert, accompanied by access to a free bar.
But one thing set the May 9 ceremony, held for graduating seniors of Chapman’s Argyros School of Business and Economics, apart from a typical dinner. Several flyers were posted outside the entrance to the Sandhu Residence and Conference Center, where conservative political commentator, author and journalist Ben Shapiro was set to speak at the “Argyros Last Call for Seniors” event.
A group of at least 15 students taped up copies of some of Shapiro’s tweets on the stairs and walls adjacent to the where the line for the event was held. Shapiro, has been called the voice of the conservative millennial movement and has often drawn criticism for his takes on issues like gay marriage, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and U.S. race relations.
“Israelis like to build. Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage,” Shapiro tweeted in 2010 about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. “This is not a difficult issue. #settlementsrock.”
When Shapiro took the stage at around 7 p.m., he addressed people who were upset the event was for business school students and their friends and family.
“The suggestion is that I’m afraid to talk to other students, that’s silly. I’m happy to talk to anyone,” he said at the event. “I look forward to the Q&A, and I have one rule for the Q&A. If you disagree, you get to go first, because it’s a lot more fun.”
Shapiro was met with laughter from the audience of about 220. At the event, he spoke about life after college, analyzed a Bible story and touched on some of his criticized tweets.
“‘If you wear your pants below your butt, don’t bend the brim of your cap and have an EBT card, there’s a 0 percent chance you’ll ever be a success in life,’” Shapiro said, reading a September 2011 tweet. “This is true and it’s true for people of every race. Got lots of white people who wear their pants below their butt, don’t bend the brim of their cap and have an EBT card. Anybody who reads that tweet and sees a commentary about black folks is a racist.”
“I have one rule for the Q&A. If you disagree, you get to go first, because it’s a lot more fun.”
As a nod to graduating seniors, Shapiro also talked about post-graduation life.
“The real world is both more romantic and less romantic than it seems. Meaning that it’s not as though you are going to live your dream the way you think it’s going to be; that’s not the way that life works,” Shapiro said.
Thomas Turk, dean of the Argyros School of Business and Economics, told The Panther that there was no correlation between the business school’s decision to make the event private and Shapiro coming to speak on campus.
“We have about 80 speaking events a year in the business school and most of them are tied to specific classes, so they’re just for the people in that class,” Turk said. “Some of them are bigger events that we give priority to business school students and supporters.”
He added that Shapiro was reached out to by an anonymous Chapman donor. As a result, the business school had no part in paying Shapiro for his visit as guest speaker. Turk declined to comment on the event’s cost, but said it would have been the same price if Shapiro had not attended.
“A supporter of the school mentioned that he had some connections with Ben Shapiro and asked if we would be interested in having him there. I said, ‘Sure, students would be interested,’” Turk said. “Those kinds of events – where they are intellectually stimulating and you can go out afterwards and argue with each other about it – really helps sharpen your own views on things.”
Shapiro typically charges between $50,000 and $100,000 to speak at an event, according to All American Speakers, a booking agency. The University of California, Berkeley spent an estimated $600,000 in security costs when Shapiro spoke there in 2017. Similarly, Chapman Public Safety officers were posted near the line that led into the building. There were two additional bodyguards at the front of the conference room while Shapiro spoke.
Jacky Dang, a junior peace studies and screenwriting double major, helped organize the demonstration in front of the building where Shapiro spoke. Prior to the event, some students expressed their thoughts on Facebook about Shapiro’s visit, criticizing some of his rhetoric. Dang said that the demonstration was not about limiting free speech, but to offer attendees information.
“As a person of color and a woman, with these tweets up, I almost cried coming here today,” Dang said. “Nothing here is aggressive towards Ben Shapiro. These are all just quotes from Ben Shapiro himself. We’re not here to show conflict; we’re not here to create fake news. This is actually all the tweets that he said.”
C.K. Magliola, a Chapman women’s studies professor, said it was unfortunate that the event wasn’t open to the Chapman community. Some of the graduating seniors who attended may not have been well-informed on Shapiro’s beliefs, she said.
“It’s interesting that they invite Ben Shapiro. They’re trying to send out the future businesspeople of America into the world, indoctrinated by hardcore extremist libertarian beliefs. That’s dangerous,” Magliola said. “To invite such a controversial figure, that’s fine, but don’t act like it’s a birthday cake like, ‘Congratulations seniors: Ben Shapiro is coming to address you for your senior day.’”
The students running the counter demonstration also handed out mock RSVP cards containing controversial quotes from Shapiro, with the request to check off one of two boxes: “To hear B.S.” or to “Not hear B.S.” The group encouraged the event’s attendees to instead visit the Heartbeat of Mexico event, which took place at the same time in the Leatherby Libraries and featured Adrian Felix, a professor from the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Riverside.
“As a person of color and a woman, with these tweets up, I almost cried coming here today.”
“A lot of people didn’t want to hear what we had to say, and that’s fine, because people have their own views and we have to respect that,” said Ryan Winnie, a senior political science and peace studies double major who took part in the demonstration. “It is hard to see that people don’t even want to get information about what they’re going to see. It’s disheartening.”
Later in the night during a Q&A, Oba Olaniyi, a junior screenwriting major, was the first person to pose a question to Shapiro, asking if he was aware of the demonstration and the cards that were distributed outside earlier in the evening.
“Why don’t you pass the pamphlet up here, and I’ll read it off for you?” Shapiro said, drawing applause.
Reading a card that listed remarks he has made in speeches, tweets and op-eds, Shapiro reinforced his agreement with most of his statements, including the idea that U.S. universities turn students into “snowflakes” and the idea that black people aren’t poor because the U.S. is racist.
“Again, agree with me, well-stated,” Shapiro said, drawing cheering and laughter. “I said it, I agree with it.”
Olaniyi told The Panther that he started off the Q&A by bringing up the demonstration because he wanted to draw attention to the questions asked by people who couldn’t attend the closed event.
“There were very few things on that pamphlet that (Shapiro) outright denied. He sort of skirted around things, danced around some things and some things he said, ‘Yes, that’s it. Absolutely,’” Olaniyi said. “The media shapes the public opinion and that in turn shapes how we make policy. He’s a dangerous voice within that, and I think he’s part of a much larger problem.”
Sam Mazo, a sophomore business administration major, said the event had a large turnout because people were excited to hear Shapiro speak.
“I don’t agree with everything he says, but with a figure like him, it’s always impressive to hear him speak in person,” Mazo said.
Ryan Marhoefer, a junior business administration major, told The Panther that Shapiro is a “great speaker and one of the most influential voices today.”
“It’s really hard to get dirt on Ben Shapiro.”
In response to the demonstration, Marhoefer said he “needed a microscope” to see the amount of people who showed up.
“I’m OK with them protesting,” he said. “They would’ve had better luck if what they were saying was substantive, but it’s really hard to get dirt on Ben Shapiro.”