Raising the Standard at UGA since 2013.

The Shapiro Effect: When Facts Meet Feelings on College Campuses

Shapiro at work. Photo Courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

Once bastions of free thought, speech, and creativity, America’s universities have become safe spaces for authoritarian, leftist thinkers and ideologies. From the University of Missouri’s Dr. Melissa Click threatening violence against a journalism student to UC Berkeley’s full-scale riot in protest of Milo Yiannopoulos, it seems that the collegiate extension of the left vs. right culture war is now decisively one-sided. Conservative speakers are often shouted down and disrupted, if they are allowed a platform at all.

While the University of Georgia has stayed relatively free of similar incidents that garner national attention, it still reeks of a certain sentiment that is all too familiar in the contemporary collegiate environment that prefers every type of diversity save diversity of ideology. In early April, two examples of this intolerant sentiment occurred at UGA. The Arch Conservative hosted a talk titled “Opportunity Feminism: How the Right Can Fix Feminism, featuring the founder of Network of Enlightened Women, Karin Agness Lips.

Lips asserted that the principles of individual liberties and limited government, emphasized in the conservative platform, are better suited to the enfranchisement of women than the liberal platform that she feels has hijacked modern feminism. She then opened the floor for questions, and while some were fair and respectful, others were vitriolic and often nonsensical. One student told Lips that she was unqualified to speak on feminism because she had failed to mention genital-mutilation or domestic violence. Lips responded that her talk was more about the economic advancement and that she gave separate talks about those subjects. Another student accused her of only being concerned with the advancement of white women, despite Lips not specifying race at any point and speaking about American women as a whole. Lips did her best to give fair responses to many unfair questions, but the Q&A section of the event frequently descended into shouting and nonproductive rabble.

In a similar display in April, Jewish students at UGA, including members of the primarily Jewish sorority Sigma Delta Tau, hosted “Israelfest,” a celebration of Jewish heritage at the Tate Student Center that included falafel and a live camel. The attitude was indeed celebratory on a picturesque Friday afternoon. Then, however, the protesters arrived.

A formidable group of students, some associated with Students for Justice in Palestine, showed up to agitate and shout down what had begun as an entirely apolitical event. Most of the demonstrators refused to answer any questions when approached by students trying to get an understanding of what to report about the protest. These megaphone-heavy tactics have become quite common around universities in the United States, and while the protestors’ speech is protected, one might wonder what might have occurred had Ben Shapiro been there on either occasion.

Ben Shapiro is a 33-year-old political commentator based in Los Angeles whose campus talks have become popular among college-aged conservatives. He is an orthodox Jew, as evidenced by his yarmulke, which he wears in almost all his public appearances.

His education, it is worthwhile to note, is extensive and impressive. Shapiro graduated high school at 16, is an alum of UCLA, and has a law degree from Harvard. Despite his many accomplishments, which include publishing seven books and being a nationally syndicated columnist as well as hosting “the most popular conservative podcast,” his greatest achievement may well be his ability to expose the true colors of leftism in academia. Moreover, he does this by quite simply professing the truth while remaining calm and factual during question and answer sessions, confrontations with students, pundits, and professors, and the like.

“Facts don’t care about your feelings” is a quote often associated with Shapiro, which concisely summarizes his lectures at various universities. Shapiro’s talks usually involve his explanation of some current hot-button topics, such as socialism, feminism, Black Lives Matter, safe-spaces, micro-aggressions, and what the left gets wrong about them, whether intentionally or inadvertently.

After lectures, Shapiro anticipatorily takes questions from the audience, and students are typically not shy about attempting to levy verbal slandering in the name of social justice. The true spectacle comes when Shapiro is confronted by the more radical types, with whom he is consistently able to calmly and factually rebut. Oftentimes, Shapiro reaches a respectful understanding with said questioners given their genuine interest in learning something from his expertise (as opposed to lecturing him on social justice). He is sharp, confident, and well-spoken throughout. In fact, he will often call for the left-leaning audience members to ask questions first, stating that they are “always more fun.”  

This is exactly what separates Shapiro from many others who run the college campus circuit. He is not an intentional provocateur like Yiannopoulos, and he does not engage his audiences with stand-up comedy routines as does Steven Crowder (not to diminish either of their services to contributing creatively to the combat against the left); rather, he simply states his beliefs and backs them up with irrefutable facts. Moreover, Shapiro comes to campus not in attempt to further some narrative, but rather to enlighten students on a very legitimate worldview. Unsurprisingly, this does not comport well with college leftists whose modern repertoire consists only of agitation and the heckler’s veto. In fact, they cannot stand it.

This is where the ugly and authoritarian side of the New Left comes to light. Last year, Shapiro was banned from giving a talk at DePaul University. “Given the experiences and security concerns that some other schools have had with Ben Shapiro speaking on their campuses,” said Bob Janis, Vice President of facilities operations at the private Chicago institution, “DePaul cannot agree to allow him to speak on our campus at this time.” One might ask to which security concerns Janis refers. Perhaps a New Left activist might pull the fire alarm, or a large group of Social Justice Warriors will chant “Shame!” at Shapiro and his listeners. These disruptions are common and are even supported and perpetuated on some campuses by less enlightened professors, as was the case at Marquette University in Milwaukee where staff bought tickets in order to take seats from supporters. It should be noted that Marquette supposedly supports a “vigorous yet respectful debate” of ideas on campus. So much for intellectual diversity.  

The left’s intolerance in dealing with Mr. Shapiro illustrates just how little credibility and backbone the standard-bearers of the New Left have, if any at all. Attempts to refute him in a public forum should be encouraged, as Shapiro and his hosting organizations consistently do. However, the attempts made by professors and student groups to take away his platform are truly shameful and anti-intellectual. In fact, the attempts are entirely antithetical to the simple existence of the university by its very definition to offer a marketplace of ideas or ‘diversity’ of opinions from which its students may benefit.

Shapiro has never encouraged violence or discrimination of any kind, but simply telling hecklers and detractors alike that “[their] truth is not THE truth,” as he puts it, is enough to send them into a frenzy. The fact that university staff and students actually have the power to prevent Shapiro from speaking is all the more shameful and disappointing.

Quite possibly the most infamous incident demonstrating the left’s intolerance came during Shapiro’s appearance on the Headline News (HLN) show “Dr. Drew.” Shapiro and other panelists were discussing Caitlyn Jenner winning the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2016 ESPYs. When he refused to call Jenner or another panelist, transgender reporter Zoey Tur, by their preferred pronouns, Tur threatened Shapiro with physical violence. Tur grabbed him by the shoulder (Tur is much larger than the 5’9” Shapiro) and said, “You cut that out now, or you’ll go home in an ambulance,” a statement which Shapiro felt was “mildly inappropriate.” (Note: Tur, who became famous as “Chopper Bob” for overflight coverage of the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase and the post-O.J. verdict Los Angeles riots, is the biological father of Katy Tur, the NBC reporter who was chosen to cover the Trump campaign for the network). It is important here to note that Shapiro in no way meant anything of malice to these people. For confirmation, see the video.

Shapiro’s ironic understatement of the New Left’s actions on campus, and increasingly in sentiments and actions of the American public, as “mildly inappropriate” illustrates his skillful handling of this increasingly alarming phenomenon, which is becoming an actual threat to the First Amendment on campus. On being threatened by Tur, Shapiro stated, “Just because the left has designated someone a member of the victim class does not mean that that person gets to infringe the rights of others. Until the left learns that, their aggression will not stop.”

Unfortunately, it seems that the aggression will not stop anytime soon. Shapiro’s most recent campus talk, given at the University of Florida, was also met with protest. While this one stayed fairly civil, the trend of radical left college students being unwilling to hear anything that deviates from their narrow worldview continues. Some would rather see a platform taken away completely than attempt to refute it with a sober counterargument or accept that not everyone buys into their premises. Shapiro summarizes this ongoing conflict, saying, “Freedom of speech and thought matters, especially when it is speech and thought with which we disagree. The moment the majority decides to destroy people for engaging in thought it dislikes, thought crime becomes a reality.”

This piece is adapted from one under the same name in the 2017 Summer Edition of The Arch Conservative In Print as the magazine’s cover story.

J. Thomas Perdue is a sophomore studying journalism. He is a regular contributor to The Arch Conservative.