Scheduled speech from Erik Prince shut down after protests
Students witnessed a silent walkout, a drag show, “Baking with the African Americans”, drums, and a wall of chairs at Beloit College tonight.
They did not see Erik Prince.
Here’s the thread that followed the event as it unfolded:
Pearsons is absolutely packed minutes before Erik Prince is scheduled to come speak at Beloit College. A walkout is scheduled to occur to protest his invitation. pic.twitter.com/x7Q61E8PV0
— Dianne Lugo (@lugo_dianne) March 28, 2019
Prince is known as the former CEO of Blackwater, a private military security firm that is now named Academi, and younger brother of United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. In 2007, 17 Iraqi citizens were killed by Blackwater guards during the Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad. Four of those guards were tried and convicted in U.S. Federal Court.
Leading up to the scheduled March 27 event, several students had posted to the Beloit College Student Facebook group about their dismay and anger at Prince’s invitation to campus. There were also a number of Op-Eds submitted to The Round Table that took various stances on Prince’s impending visit. Tension on campus was even more prominent following student anger at the suspension of a Muslim student who had posted several controversial posts; one of which had directly targeted Young Americans for Freedom (YAF)– the group that had invited Erik Prince–and their chairman, Andrew Collins’20.
Collins released a statement last week in which he assured students that YAF had nothing to do with the student’s suspension and that Prince had been invited “to bring an individual with extensive business and entrepreneurial experience to give a presentation on ways the free market may provide solutions to issues related to national security.”
On March 24, the executive board of the Students for an Inclusive Campus (SIC) organization also released a lengthy statement in which they stated that “in providing a platform for Prince, Beloit ignores its own 2018 Academic Priorities of ‘focusing on anti-racism, equity, and inclusive living and learning.’” The post also outlined Prince’s controversial history.
SIC also outlined the events they had scheduled to protest the speech: “While we believe that direct confrontation has a place in activism, we are choosing to avoid any reason for YAF to target SIC as being exclusionary of conservative voices. Because of Prince’s history, we do not wish to ask for more emotional labor from marginalized bodies, and we hope these counter events allow you to celebrate your identity rather than listen to someone who, through his actions, has proven he has no regard for marginalized people, and the anti-racist work this college promotes.”
Those events included food in DKs, a drag show in Java Joint, and an event called “Baking with African Americans” also hosted in DKs.
A student-led walkout was also organized. 20 minutes before the event was scheduled to start, Moore Lounge was packed with people. At 7:30 p.m, the scheduled start time of the event, students vacated the room. The vacant seats, however, were quickly taken by those not participating in the protest who had been standing at the side.
Separately, three student protestors arrived carrying drums, a cymbal, and a cowbell. Security spoke to them briefly but did not escort them out initially.
By 7:35 p.m. there were no signs of Prince, Collins, or any of YAF’s leadership. Instead, the drumming students began to play loudly. A brief but tense interaction between one of the drummers and Kyle Ferrebee, program officer for the national YAF Chapter Services, was separated by security. Originally escorted out, the drummers returned moments later and would remain there for the rest of the event. [Editor’s note: While speaking to the Round Table, the drummers refuted this point and stated that security did not intervene at this moment. Instead, they left the room on their own, they said.]
The entire thing was mostly 30 minutes of laughter, clapping, and intermittent shouts of “Erik Prince where are you?” Downstairs, Java Joint was left with no room as students flocked to see other students perform in drag.
At 8 p.m. students began stacking chairs on stage, and audience members began to leave. Three students stood in front of the stage with banners and signs.
Cecil Youngblood, Beloit’s interim Dean of Students, announced that the speech was officially canceled due to “safety reasons” by 8:15 p.m.
Prince never made an appearance.
Beloit College released a statement shortly after the event was shut down:
Due to disruptive protests and safety concerns, the event hosted by the Young Americans for Freedom featuring speaker Erik Prince had to be cancelled [sic] to ensure the safety of all participants. As an institution of higher learning, open dialogue on all topics is one of our core principles. Tonight’s events fell unacceptably short of this core principle, and we condemn the behavior of those who disrupted the event. The college will begin an investigation immediately.
In an email to The Round Table, Tim Jones, Chief Communications and Integrated Marketing Officer, clarified that “the college will investigate to see if policies were violated” noting, in particular, the “Demonstrations Policy” outlined in the student handbook.
In a statement published by the Beloit Daily News Prince stated that legal action may come against Beloit College. Prince also added, they said, “It’s sad the administration of this college lacked the moral courage to enforce speech and to defend free speech…Fortunately [President Trump] will defend free speech and I think the college will be hearing from the court soon on this because enough is enough.”
The Round Table will update this story as it develops.
Update March 28:
President Scott Bierman emailed a statement to the Beloit College community this morning.
Dear Beloit College Community,
This college has put great trust in its students. We have proudly declared that any recognized student group can bring to campus speakers of their choice. And we proudly have made clear that students can protest those speakers in ways they see fit as long as the speaker is not significantly disrupted. Embedded in these policies are two key tenets: (1) trust in our students; and (2) free inquiry.
The principles undergirding our free inquiry policies are fundamentally democratic. To those who disrupted the talk: Do you really want to learn at an institution where there are self-appointed editors who shut down free inquiry because they believe they know what others ought to be able to hear? I do not. That approach to education violates all that this college has historically stood for. Of course, we need to make space for voices of dissent – that is an essential part of free inquiry. Indeed, there were students who protested last night in ways that are completely consistent with our principles. For example, plans for a protest that SIC shared with members of the community prior to the event were exactly in line with our principles. But, voices of dissent differ in fundamental ways from intentional disruption.
I condemn excessive disruptions unequivocally, I do so because they are debilitating to the mission of this college, a mission I love.
We need to be better than this.