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An Open Letter to UCLA Re: Milo Yiannopoulos

To any it may concern,
I request that the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and its administrators intervene to prevent Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking on campus, specifically at the February 2nd event reportedly being held by the Bruin Republicans student group. I ask this as a current student and a transgender member of our Bruin community who feels unsafe at the prospect of his coming to our campus specifically because of the ways he has demonstrated a willingness to target for harassment individual students who are transgender, like me, during and after recent speaking engagements at similar institutions of higher education.
As reported by New York Magazine and the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, Yiannopoulos was speaking at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee in December of this past year when he began to show slides of a transgender student at that campus. He proceeded to make sexually violent remarks about her and her body, like that he would “almost still bang” her, as well as calling her various derogatory slurs which have been used against our community, all while refusing to acknowledge her as her gender, purposefully calling her a man.
The student, whose name was prominently displayed throughout as well as in subsequent online videos of the event, has felt unable to continue her education at that university because of the embarrassment, harassment, and fear she has felt since the incident in addition to the pitiful response of the university to address the incident. Her university loudly spoke of the importance of free speech, much like our UC Principles Against Intolerance has called for a countering of bias with more speech, but without action it becomes meaningless and hollow rhetoric that serves only to cover the actions of a hateful man. This is the result of allowing people with such long and continuing lists of discriminatory and libelous speech a platform embossed with the credentials of an esteemed institution of knowledge – we lose the retention of the communities they attack under the guise of free speech and alternative perspectives.
This is only one example of the disparaging and offensive speech which Yiannopoulos has become known for. As Angus Johnston notes, when speakers who are unaffiliated with the University are invited to campus they are doing so as guests who are not entitled to the platform of a formal speaking engagement, and so their expression of free speech is not being limited by their denial of a platform because it itself was a privilege, not a right. Further, we should hold a minimal expectation for those who are given a platform such as this to be bound by the same rules of conduct community members such as students, staff, and faculty are held to. Yiannopoulos, in his harassment of the student, broke the community guidelines held by UWM, which easily mirror our own (see 102.09 and 102.11 of the UCLA Student Conduct Code), and entered into territory which by my estimation becomes a serious Title IX issue, which he also lambasted in the same speech.
In the past, I personally have been the target of hateful speech on our campus directed towards trans people, like from the preachers who have stood in Bruin Plaza yelling at me that I’m confused and can’t be trusted to decide my own life, or having professors misgender me while they remark how trans people aren’t ‘truly’ they genders we claim. As a student leader in our campus’ transgender student organization, I found myself in the middle of the tension last Spring after a photo showing several conservative students surfaced holding signs that decried my identity as a lie. I met, then, with a variety of administrators from Title IX, Dean of Students, various Vice Chancellors, and yet the effects of seeing all that hate and undermining of who I am on this campus wore me down, and it deeply hurt my fellow students who didn’t have connections to campus leaders who could assuage them in private meetings with their support.

 

 

No matter how much the administration can meet with individual students, the damage to larger campus climate remains, and the damage to those students who are specifically targeted remains. If my picture ends up on a large screen to be mocked and ridiculed by Yiannopoulos, no number of meetings with Vice-Chancellor Jerry Kang, interim VC Monroe Gorden, or Chancellor Block will fix this; no community dialogue where none of the conservative students involved ever attend; no healing spaces where an administrator comes to tell us how sorry they are for us; no retroactive action will undo the damage or restore my faith back in the University and make me believe its concern for my community’s well-being and retention is genuine, given that UCLA administration allowed Yiannopoulos to speak knowing his history of harassment.
Universities are institutions of learning, and while that often means interacting with ideas which challenge us, the harassment and vicious commentary Yiannopoulos has offered would serve no such purpose, instead only negatively impacting the retention of student populations who already face significant marginalization and stigma. I have heard plenty of times that I should simply stay away from the part of campus where the talk will be held, but all this attitude accomplishes is to normalize the idea that I, a student who counts myself a part of this community, should be content with fearing a particular part of campus because of a guest who’s hate speech has been deemed acceptable by the University. I also reject any assessment that this is simply an opportunity to open a dialogue – they have no interest in dialogue, as exemplified by the students that held signs deriding trans people, who repeatedly refused to engage in any form of moderated conversation through a number of University offices such as the Inter-Group Relations program. Yiannopoulos similarly has shown no interest in discussing these issues in an open way, only to bash and target students of the communities he is a visitor in at the behest and jeering of the few students who invited him, who would likely face a conduct procedure if they were to engage in such behavior themselves. I strongly believe that allowing Yiannopoulos this platform is a dangerous move that will result in the creation of a hostile education environment for students of historically disenfranchised groups, and I will hold the University and its administration accountable for the damage which is done to the Bruin community as a result.

Sincerely,
Aubrey Sassoon
Student Representative, University Committee on Diversity and Equal Opportunity, 2014-2016
Student Representative, UCLA Transgender Advocacy Task Force, 2014-2016
Co-Coordinator, Transgender UCLA Pride, 2015-2016
Board Member, Trans Student Educational Resources, 2015-Current
NASPA Undergraduate Fellow, 2015-2016
Proud Bruin

2 Comments

  1. Alex Bowles says

    Worth remembering: tolerance is a peace treaty, not a moral precept. It survives only as long as the parties to it continue to respect it. Should any party reject the terms, they lose the treaty’s protections. That’s how it’s enforced. That’s how it works. That’s how *people* work.

    If you’re an actual, self-proclaimed neo-Nazi, you’ve abandoned the treaty in the most flamboyantly grotesque manner possible. You should not expect any tolerance in return. Indeed, the survival of civil society hinges on deep intolerance of transgressions like this.

    The distinction between a moral precept – which binds people regardless of other’s actions – and peace treaty, which hinges on them, is an important one, and will become more so in the coming years.

    For more on this idea, see here: https://extranewsfeed.com/tolerance-is-not-a-moral-precept-1af7007d6376#.k9sxmgsod

  2. Samantha says

    As a trans female, I believe this is the wrong way to approach this. You feel unsafe when Milo is within 1000 feet of you… Really? The current culture likes to completely avoid conflict and live in a nice peaceful bubble. Unfortunately that’s not how it will ever work in real life. People suffering from social anxiety and ptsd are told not to completely avoid conflict as it strengthens the anxiety chain of events and makes exposure worse. A controlled exposure (say with some sort of support system) is actually healthier. Point is… Safe Spaces do not work!

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