By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Off-campus venue found for controversial speaker

The group has responded by lining up an off-campus location for the presentation, featuring Jordan Peterson, a Canadian professor whose campaign against gender-neutral pronouns is considered offensive by some to the transgender population. Peterson has been re-booked for 7 to 9 p.m. at the Falls Event Center on the Evergreen museum campus.

“Anyone who is interested in a peaceful and productive exchange of ideas is welcome to attend,” said Linfield senior Parker Wells, one of the founders of the college’s YAL chapter.

Nationally, YAL is associated with the Libertarian Party. However, the local chapter is billing itself as politically nonpartisan.

The club is dedicated to “promoting free speech, with the idea that exchanging ideas with those with whom we disagree will lead to better understanding.” He said, “We’re definitely not trying to inflict any harm.”

It is still in the process of obtaining an official charter from the Associated Students of Linfield College, known as the ASLC.

YAL scheduled several events this spring, after agreeing to meet ASLC requirements for each. When it did not follow those requirements for Peterson’s talk, the ASLC withdrew its approval.

YAL was not the only organization losing ASLC sponsorship this year. The association cancelled two activities planned by other groups for also failing to meet requirements.

In the Peterson case, YAL was required to do three things — submit a signed contract a week in advance, produce an abstract of the speaker’s planned remarks and limit attendance to the Linfield community.

Wells, who said he’s been working for months to get Peterson to come to Linfield, said the speaker was late in returning the contract. That made YAL 24 hours late in submitting it to the student government.

Wells did not submit the requested abstract, but Wells said it was common knowledge that his topic would be “free speech.” After all, the presentation is part of a planned “Speak Freely” series.

As to the campus community restriction, Wells said the club tried to make that clear, but “word got out.”

One way it got out, in addition to a Young Americans for Liberty Facebook post, was a tweet from Peterson to his 100,000-plus Twitter followers. In it, he boasted he would be “violating more safe spaces soon: Linfield College.”

According to Wells, the tweet represented nothing more than a sarcastic response to a story in the Linfield Review covering another YAL free speech event.

The club rolled a 12-foot beach ball around campus and invited students to write messages or draw pictures on it. Someone added a sketch of Pepe, a frog character associated with the alt-right and branded a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League, triggering strong reaction from some students and professors.

“I fought really hard to get him,” Wells said of Peterson. “He’s gaining notoriety. To get him to accept is no small task.”

He said the ASLC could have simply overlooked the complications and let the talk proceed as planned.

Wells said most messages posted on the ball were positive, but the one that struck a sour note was bannered by the Linfield Review. And he said the intent of the artist wasn’t clear in any event.

“Some people think Pepe represents hatred and racism, but there are so many interpretations,” he said. “It’s an extremely old piece of Internet culture. The symbol has been around since 2008.”

While he said he wouldn’t draw the frog himself, he termed it was just another of the varied expressions of free speech his group encourages. Other messages were anti-Trump, for instance, he said, and those would have been as controversial on some college campuses.

Wells said Peterson read the Linfield Review article, which included a statement by a professor who called the speaker’s upcoming visit “problematic,” saying it threatens “safe spaces” for those who belong to marginalized groups. Peterson tweeted in response to that statement, he argued.

“His comment was sarcastic, satirical, irreverent, not nice, not sensitive,” Wells said. “But for them to use that to bring the hammer down? That was not in the college’s best interest.”

Peterson’s tweet led Susan Agre-Kipenhan, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty, to send a campuswide email Wednesday shutting the door even more firmly. Acting on behalf of President Tom Hellie, who is out of town, she said the ASLC would not fund Peterson’s speech and the college would not host it.

She said the school’s anti-harassment policy forbids “intimidation, harassment, exploitation and the use of threat of force.” Given Peterson’s tweet, she said, “the event no longer presents the possibility of academic inquiry within the Linfield community.”

According to Scott Nelson, director of communications and marketing, other students had come forward to express concern to faculty members. They said the speaker could have the effect of “violating their safe space or intimidating them.”

Nelson said the administration wasn’t involved in funding or facilitating Peterson’s visit. It was entirely a student process, he said.

The main reason the talk was cancelled, he said, was the club’s failure to comply with student government rules, possibly because it was trying to arrange events too hastily. “It takes some planning,” he said, recalling, for instance, the year-long process of arranging an appearance by another campus speaker.

“If they want to propose to the college that we host him at a different time, we can discuss that,” Nelson said. “We’re happy to have students and speakers of all political persuasions. We’ll be happy to work with them down the road about speakers they’re interested in.”

Nelson noted, “The debate about free speech is important to have on a college campus. Diversity of opinions is important.”

Another of the Speak Freely events will take place as planned — the screening of a controversial documentary called “The Red Pill.” 

Filmmaker Cassie Jay said she uses it to explore the men’s rights movement and issues such as custody outcomes favoring mothers over fathers, gender inequalities in the criminal justice system and gender-skewed suicide and health statistics.

The film has been banned or picketed in some locations. Detractors say it promotes a culture of sexual violence.

“The Red Pill” will air from 7 to 9:15 p.m. Tuesday, May 2, in Melrose Hall’s Richard and Lucille Ice Auditorium. A discussion with students and professors is scheduled afterward.

Comments

Rotwang

I'm there!

Lulu

For God's sake, this is college, not Mr. Rogers' neighborhood; why the hurty feelings? Everyone needs to develop a thicker skin to live on this earth. Your "safe spaces" will be invaded repeatedly by those who have just as much right to express their opinions as you do. So, instead of weeping into your hankies, grow up and show up with your placards and signs repudiating the topic. Welcome to the real world.

Joel2828

Come on Linfield, you're better than that. Don't try to hide the students from the free and open exchange of idea's.
When political correctness is given more weight than free speech the students are the ones who lose.

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