The University of Connecticut is working through its new pre-event review process for the first time ahead of a speech by former Breitbart editor-at-large Ben Shapiro, whose controversial talks have been met with both support and disapproval on other college campuses.
Shapiro, editor-in-chief of conservative news and commentary site The Daily Wire, was invited to speak by UConn College Republicans, the same student group that brought conservative commentator Lucian Wintrich to the university on Nov. 28 for a talk titled “It Is OK To Be White.”
The talk was cut short by an altercation between Wintrich and an audience member, who is now facing charges of larceny and disorderly conduct. Outside the lecture hall, police dealt with individuals breaking a glass window and tossing a smoke bomb into the crowd of several hundred protesters. A student and Wintrich were arrested, though charges were later dropped against him and filed against the audience member who took his speech.
UConn is now testing a pre-event review process that President Susan Herbst announced in the wake of Wintrich’s chaotic event.
Shapiro’s speech is part of a national lecture series presented by conservative outreach group The Young America’s Foundation, which says the event is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Jan. 24, in Laurel Hall, a lecture hall with capacity for about 400 people.
UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said those details are still being finalized.
The review process involves planning for the appropriate space and security to protect the free speech rights and safety of Shapiro, audience members and others who may be at or near the event, Reitz said.
Administrators are also looking at the arrangements for question and answer sessions, which university offices should have representatives in the room, whether attendees need UConn IDs, and other details, Reitz said.
“The review process is not based on the content of an event; we don’t regulate based on content,” she said. “It’s a purely administrative procedure.”
Shapiro is a podcast host and nonfiction author of a New York Times best-seller and several national best-sellers, including “Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth.”
In September, he was able to peacefully deliver a speech at the University of California at Berkeley even as a crowd of protesters grew to about 1,000 people. Police shut down portions of the campus and made nine arrests during the event.
Similarly, Wintrich’s recent talk at UConn was derailed by near continuous chanting and heckling by audience members, some of whom lobbed the label “Nazi” at Wintrich, who is the White House correspondent for far-right, Pro-Trump website The Gateway Pundit.
Reitz said a university official will make a statement at the beginning of Shapiro's upcoming event to make it clear there are expectations of appropriate behavior, though administrators are still deciding what they consider truly disruptive behavior.
"We're using a lot of the information we learned after the Wintrich event to determine what sorts of questions needed to be looked at," she said. "Our intention is to never turn somebody away based on them being controversial. It's actually the opposite - to make sure those voices have all the same protections as every other voice."