Within 24 hours, journalist and political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos was disinvited from the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he was to deliver a keynote speech, lost a book deal with Simon & Schuster, and quit his position as a senior editor at Breitbart. Needless to say, he has had an off week.
Yiannopoulos has been instrumental in the popularization of white nationalist, neo-Nazi ideologies that are also entrenched in sexism, queerphobia, and other forms of bigotry. As a self-proclaimed “warrior for free speech and creative expression,” Yiannopoulos’ popularity marks a rise in the advocacy for uninhibited public discourse. However, his interpretation of free speech has not gone, and should not go, unchallenged.
Yiannopoulos’s rapid downward spiral comes after an interview transcript of right-leaning, satirical podcast Drunken Peasants with Yiannopoulos began circulating on social media. In the interview, Yiannopoulos calls consent “arbitrary and oppressive” and claims that it fails to acknowledge the “complicated nature of many relationships.”
In addition to completely undermining the necessity of consent laws, Yiannopoulos said: “I think in the gay world … relationships … between younger boys and older men … can be hugely positive experiences.” His remarks quite clearly condone pedophilia and sexual violence against those who are legally unable to consent.
Of course, this is coming from the man who wrote a Breitbart piece entitled “Feminists and Progressives Attack College Football With More Dodgy Rape Statistics,” in which he argues that rape culture is a myth and contingent on 'man-hating' and 'undermining masculinity.'
In the aftermath of the Berkeley riots that forced him to cancel his speaking engagement, I had many conversations with people who claimed to condemn Yiannopoulos’s ideologies, but defended his right to disseminate them on college campuses. My response to these people is simple: college campuses are not, and should not be, responsible for financially supporting figures like Yiannopoulos whose politics are founded upon the marginalization of certain identities. Our campuses cannot host public figures who claim that “gay rights have made us dumber,” call transgender people “mentally ill,” or claim that rape culture is a “fantasy.”
Three years ago, Scripps College rescinded the invitation of conservative columnist George Will in light of his comments “debunking” rape culture on college campuses. Former Scripps President Lori Bettison-Varga wrote in a statement: “Sexual assault is not a conservative or liberal issue. And it is too important to be trivialized in a political debate.”
Indeed, the validity of sexual violence that is experienced daily cannot be discounted. The legitimacy of marginalized identities and experiences, such as those that pertain to racism, sexual assault, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia, deserve to be heard and validated by our institutions of learning.
It is unacceptable that his pedophilia comments were the straw that broke the camel’s back for Simon & Schuster and CPAC. Their continued support of his brand up until this point reveals their own ignorance of the ways in which Yiannopoulos actively perpetuates hate speech, racism, sexism, and xenophobia.
By continuing to fund speakers like Yiannopoulos, colleges like our own are not advocating for free speech; they are encouraging a type of ill-informed, hateful discourse that has no place on our campuses. If our colleges want to flaunt diversity on their brochures and websites, they should be willing to address the needs of their diverse students. They are entirely responsible for assuring that white supremacists, sexists, and bigots masquerading under the label 'political pundit' do not impinge upon the lived experiences of their students.
Tiara Sharma SC '20 is from Boston, Massachusetts. She plans on majoring in English and maybe Philosophy.