Over 100 students staged a “Blackout” at the Associated Students Senate meeting on Wednesday, protesting the A.S. funding of a College Republicans event to host conservative speaker Ben Shapiro for a critique on the Black Lives Matter movement.
Shapiro has openly argued against the grounds of the Black Lives Matter movement in his political commentary, causing him to be banned from several university campuses in years past due to risk of protest.
The A.S. Finance and Business Committee granted $5,000 to the UCSB College Republicans to host Shapiro Monday, and the A.S. Senate approved the funding through a secret ballot Wednesday.
Anticipating a large turnout for the public forum in response to Monday’s decision, A.S. administration opted to move the Senate meeting out of the UCen Flying A Room into Corwin Pavilion. A lengthy public forum included commentary from both sides of the issue.
Eric Lendrum, a fourth-year political science major and founding chairman of Young Americans for Liberty, said the university has a reputation of upholding freedom of speech and freedom of expression. To table the event, he said, would disrupt this reputation.
“If you guys decide to table this event just because some people are offended by it, then that will set a very dangerous precedent,” he said.
Over 150 people were gathered in the building, and as each speaker took turns addressing the Senate, students stood in solidarity with those who voiced concerns against Shapiro’s visit.
Nadia Talley, the political co-chair for the Black Student Union (BSU), said white students do not have to worry about safe spaces and the Shapiro event could “incite riot and hateful speech.”
Natalie Jordan, the A.S. Internal Vice President, asked senators for consent to be filmed as part of the Senate’s live stream. Senator Jordan Mitchell asked to not be filmed.
Students from UCSB College Republicans audibly groaned, and Jordan told the students they were out of order.
One student from the group yelled out “You’re out of order!” prompting Jordan to ask that he be escorted out of the building by a CSO.
Many of the College Republicans left the meeting early after the exchange. College Republican president Andrew Gates stayed to film Mitchell, and Mitchell gathered his belongings and walked out of Corwin Pavilion. Gates and Mitchell got into a verbal argument as Mitchell exited the building.
College Republicans members and students in opposition of the Shapiro event later quarreled outside the Senate meeting shortly after public forum. Students chanted “Black People” in solidarity and others argued against using student funds for an event that would promote “anti-blackness.”
In the meantime, the A.S. Senate tabled the approval of a free speech bill, saying the legislation could come across the wrong way in light of the controversy regarding the Ben Shapiro event.
College Republicans and students opposing Ben Shapiro event get into verbal argument outside Senate meeting. pic.twitter.com/GD6LjPdAiO
— Daily Nexus (@dailynexus) November 3, 2016
College Republicans used free speech several times during the public forum as support for the Shapiro’s speaking engagement, and the Senate chose to accept the bill at a later time to avoid the appearance of siding with either group of students.
“I don’t want it to be seen as anything that it shouldn’t be seen as,” said Senator Reilly Hobson, chair of Finance and Business Committee.
The Senate went back and forth on deciding their position several times, eventually bringing the vote to a secret ballot handwritten by each senator.
“As decision makers, we can’t be speaking in hypotheticals about what somebody may say,” Jordan said to senators prior to decisionmaking. “Any decision we make has to not be based on the content itself. Let’s keep everything viewpoint neutral.”
After a six-hour meeting that culminated shortly past midnight, the A.S. Senate announced the results of the vote. Of 23 total senators, two abstained, 16 voted yes and five voted no.
Naia Al-Anbar, a third-year transfer student, was present for the entire meeting. She left shortly after the results were announced, yelling “fuck you” to the Senate as she walked out of the building.
“What went on in there was the most fucked up thing in the entire world,” she said, “Hundreds of POCs came in and begged you not to do this, and A.S. looked them all in the eye and voted no, and they couldn’t even own up to it.”
She added that there would likely be protests once a date is set for the event, and she plans to contact the local chapter of Black Lives Matter for further support.
Reporter Brandon Chen contributed research.