CORRECTION: A previous version of this article had inconsistent spellings of George Behrakis’ name. The article has been updated to reflect this change. The Daily regrets this error.
Tufts Republicans recently submitted a proposal to Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate for funding to bring Ben Shapiro, a conservative political commentator and former editor for Breitbart News, a far-right online publication founded in 2007. The Senate debate on the funding request was scheduled for Oct. 29, but the Tufts Republicans requested that the debate be postponed to enable them to further prepare, according to the group’s president George Behrakis.
“We asked the Senate to postpone the debate and vote,” Behrakis, a sophomore, told the Daily in an email. “After the request passed through the Allocations Board a couple of weeks ago, there was a swift mobilization against us by leftist student groups. We thought it best to postpone the process to give ourselves more time to prepare. That being said, we fully expect to debate our proposal in the Senate.”
Behrakis was in part referring to Tufts United for Immigrant Justice (UIJ) and Tufts Student Action (TSA), which quickly notified and mobilized students to pressure members of Senate to vote against the funding request with a Facebook event called “Pack the Room: Vote No to Ben Shapiro.” The event was later cancelled when the Tufts Republicans postponed the discussion.
According to the event Facebook page, Shapiro’s “history of spreading fake news and fearmongering, particularly around issues of immigration, has put many of our communities in tangible amounts of danger.”
The organizers added in the event’s description that Shapiro’s appearance on campus would give him “a legitimate platform to continue spreading these lies and will threaten the undocumented-friendly environment we’ve spent the past five years fighting for.”
Shapiro has falsely claimed that immigrants commit more crimes and are a “drain on public resources,” and denied the existence of white privilege based on the idea that blackness is an advantage in the United States. Shapiro has also commented that the identity of transgender people is a form of delusion, and has posted a video on his Facebook page saying that rape culture is a result of feminists preventing men from protecting women.
According to Behrakis, it is important to him for student groups to be able to bring speakers they “find interesting and engaging to campus,” and to bring Shapiro specifically in order to engage in a conservative dialogue.
“Many in our club specifically think that Ben Shapiro occupies a very unique space on the right,” Behrakis said. “He’s a mainstream conservative in his beliefs, but also very critical of the President as well as outspoken in his style.”
Behrakis explained that Shapiro’s appearance is part of a larger effort on the part of Tufts Republicans to give a platform to conservative voices, which Tufts students do not normally hear.
“I think we need to be bringing more conservatives to speak on campus in general,” Behrakis said. “This is something our club has been working on both a smaller scale, by inviting conservative voices to join us during our weekly meetings, as well as on a larger scale, by working with the Tisch College of Civic Life to bring speakers to campus whose views differ from the intellectual norm here.”
However, Ana Manriquez, a member of UIJ, said that Shapiro’s divisive comments undermine the possibility of productive dialogue.
“It’s not about not wanting to hear opposing opinions, or opposing thoughts, or anything like that. It’s just [Shapiro’s] opinions directly target my existence or the existence of people I care about,” Manriquez, a senior, said. “That’s not even dialogue any more. That’s you telling me that I don’t have a right to be here whether it’s as a student or as a human being. There’s no way you can create productive dialogue in that situation.”
Manriquez and Emma Kahn, another senior and UIJ member, both said that when TCU Senate hears the proposal and if Shapiro comes to campus, UIJ will organize again to make sure their presence is recognized and their voices are heard.
“In any situation when our voices are trying to be silenced, that’s when we’re the loudest,” Manriquez said. “Every day [we] have to fight to have our voices heard and him coming is a direct silencing of a lot of this which is what makes us just want to be louder.”
If TCU Senate were to provide funding for Shapiro’s appearance, the money would come from the student activity fee, TCU Senate Vice President Anna Del Castillo said. The student activity fee is part of each student’s tuition and fees, and it contributes to the money that the Allocations Board (ALBO) then distributes to student groups to fund their activities, she explained.
Del Castillo, a senior, said she has heard differing opinions from the student body on whether or not Shapiro should be invited to campus. She said some students feel his hateful rhetoric should not be welcomed on campus, while others believe that he should be allowed to speak even if many students strongly disagree with his politics.
The Tufts Republicans proposal was discussed by ALBO during a weekly meeting to determine how much funding to provide each request, Del Castillo explained. Senators as a whole also had several conversations about the topic informally. Because the Republicans postponed the debate, however, TCU Senate did not have a formal conversation with the full body at a meeting, she said.
ALBO receives funding requests from student groups and recommends whether or not to provide the full amount of the request, and then TCU Senate votes on whether to approve the recommendation, according to Del Castillo. It is currently TCU policy not to publicize ALBO funding recommendations before they are voted on, she said. However, she argued that the ALBO put a lot of thought into this controversial issue.
“I think for this particular request, they spent a lot of time and energy thinking about how Senate would vote and what would be best for the student body,” she said.
Del Castillo acknowledged that this policy has led many people to question TCU Senate’s transparency, and added that Senate is willing to discuss publicizing Allocations Board recommendations in the future. She said she had not heard student interest in this until now.
Shapiro’s visits to college campuses have frequently sparked controversy. In September, Shapiro spoke at University of California, Berkeley as part of a Free Speech Week hosted by the student group Berkley Patriots, according to the Mercury News. Other speakers included controversial political commentators Milo Yiannopoulous and Ann Coulter, both of whom canceled their speeches due to safety concerns.
The UC Berkeley administration spent $600,000 on the event to increase security and police presence, according to Al Jazeera. Berkley student groups organized protests which ultimately resulted in some violence when police began physically pushing protesters, Al Jazeera said.
Furthermore, Shapiro left Breitbart News in 2016 after he felt the media outlet aligned itself too closely with President Donald Trump’s campaign, according to PBS FRONTLINE News. Shapiro does not identify as a member of the alt-right, whose members have targeted him for his Jewish identity, according to Al Jazeera.
Kahn said that UIJ would be sure to protest his appearance on campus and to face him by making sure that the very student to whom he would deny humanity are there to resist with their existence.
“I feel invested in when, if or when Ben Shapiro shows up to campus being like here are all these people who you deeply hate and feel so much unnecessary anger towards standing right in front of you, being human, existing,” Kahn said.