Editorial | Free speech can’t work behind closed doors

Illustrated by Gaby Fantone

We want Ben Shapiro to speak on campus. At a time when politics are incredibly divisive and there’s little willingness to reach across the aisle, it’s crucial that we hear and challenge perspectives that differ from our own – especially in an academic setting.

But here’s the thing. Shapiro will speak at a closed event specifically for Argyros School of Business and Economics students May 9. That’s not acceptable. Now more than ever, we need to engage in constructive conversations about politics. That cannot happen through a closed door.

Shapiro is known for being the voice of conservative millennials. He is spearheading a movement of a new generation of voters who relate to his message. But that message is contentious and inflammatory. He thinks that being transgender is a mental illness. He doesn’t believe that black people are discriminated against. He thinks abortion should be illegal.

We understand the importance of diversity of opinion. But Shapiro, simply put, has opinions that undercut the identities and humanity of several marginalized groups – and, while we don’t know what he’ll discuss May 9, he shouldn’t be given an opportunity to spout those viewpoints in a closed-off setting.

Chapman is no stranger to bringing political speakers to campus. Over the past few years, the university has hosted conservative radio host Larry Elder, former CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson, Title IX critic Laura Kipnis and former Black Panther and activist Angela Davis.

Despite their wide variety of views and political backgrounds, you’ll notice that these speakers all have one thing in common: They spoke to large audiences in settings that were open to the public. This is where the problem with Shapiro’s speech arises. Only a select group of students and faculty are allowed to attend.

There isn’t even a public Facebook page to advertise the event, nor is it on Chapman event calendar. Unless you were invited, there’s a chance you would never even know he came.

When Shapiro spoke at the University of Southern California in October 2018, he faced an audience of at least 1,200 guests – not all of whom, it’s likely, agreed with his views. As someone who touts the importance of diversity of opinion, facts and freedom of speech – and emphasizes its presence on college campuses – Shapiro speaking at a closed event is cowardly.

The hallmark of freedom of speech is that it gives us the right not just to discuss what we believe, but to challenge what others believe. So we challenge Shapiro and those who brought him to campus: Speak in the open at Chapman. Give the full spectrum of the student body the chance to engage with you and debate. Otherwise, is it really free speech?

We don’t think so.