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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:

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.

Students walk out of the event. (Tess Lydon/The Round Table)

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. 

Three student protestors stand in front of the stage. (Dianne Lugo/ The Round Table)

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.


Scott Bierman

28 thoughts on “Scheduled speech from Erik Prince shut down after protests”

  1. Dana Corby says:

    Dear President Bierman:

    Giving a platform to a war profiteer is not “an essential part of free inquiry.”

    1. Anonymous says:

      Using the name anonymous and a throwaway email since I live on campus and know I’m expressing an uh… let’s just call it “controversial” view. Say what you will about Erik Prince, I don’t really like the guy either, but attempting to shut the guy down hasn’t helped anybody. It has further divided people. If you really wanna take someone down you need to let them speak, and then show how everything they argued is wrong. By resorting to Ad hominem you fail to rebut his arguments, and now we will never be able to as we will never hear them. Instead he went to give a private speech, where his views will ACTUALLY go unchallenged. Not to mention that shutting him down in the manner SOME of the protestors attempted to is simply feeding the resentment. There were protests I thought were perfectly acceptable. But several students went FAR over the line.

    2. Killer Marmot says:

      Yes, actually it is. There are no speakers who should be out of bounds, and certainly a small cadre of students should not have the power to decide for the rest of the college.

    3. Rick says:

      “Giving a platform to a war profiteer is not “an essential part of free inquiry.””

      Yes it is, you left-wing fascist idiot.

  2. Joseph Goldenbogen says:

    Sooo, he didn’t even bother to show up becausethey assumed he would be disrupted? That poor man /s

  3. Joseph Goldenbogen says:

    Sooo he never even showed up to try and give the speech? That poor bullied man /s

  4. Frankie says:

    “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.”

    Since when do private colleges have to allow any and everyone to have a voice? Does no one understand free speech means the GOVERNMENT can’t censor you and that there are numerous limitations including slander, threats, and libel? Do private Christian colleges allow Richard Dawkins to come and talk all about how their god is made up and evolution by natural selection is a fact?

  5. Jay Frisbee says:

    As a Beloit alum, I’m proud to see the younger generation putting their liberal arts education to productive use.

  6. marcos says:

    *War criminals need not apply.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Using a throwaway name and email because I live on campus and know my views are… let’s say “controversial.” I don’t like Eric any more than the next guy, but deplatforming him hasn’t achieved anything but giving him a spotlight. Not to mention his actual arguments, and the reasoning behind them have now gone completely unchallenged. When you shut people down that doesn’t mean you have won the debate, it means that people will continue the discussion in private, somewhere we won’t be to argue against them. Not to mention that because multiple students decided to behave in such a manner these protests achieved nothing more than fueling resentment. If you want to stop people like Eric you need to challenge their ideas. Let the man talk, then after he speaks show why his ideas don’t work or don’t make sense. When you shut down discussion EVERYONE loses. Not all the protestors are at fault of course. The SIC had a solidly planned protest, one that would still allow the man to speak, but show disapproval. They would be able to hear the man’s ideas, and then challenge them. On the other hand you had students banging drums, which pretty clearly shows you would rather drown him out then even CONSIDER having a discussion, and in one particular case you had a student send what I can only describe as a death threat to the president of the YAF chapter. I am completely onboard with the college’s condemnation of THESE actions in particular. There is a difference between protesting and instigating.

  8. Carmen McFarlin says:

    Dear President Scott,

    WE are better than providing a public forum for a profiteering war criminal. I support and applaud the Beloit students willing to stand up for greater values than greed and capitalism.

    Carmen McFarlin
    Beloit Parent

    1. Michael J Markoff says:

      Greed is a normal and healthy enlightened self-interest, and capitalism is the ONLY unbiased means of allocating limited goods & services. Do away with them (in essence the “carrots”) and you’re left with zero motivation to endure the drudgery and risk necessary to generate anything, except by way of the “stick” of brutality. You really need to read the classics more.

  9. G G says:

    And what of the students’ trust in the college?

  10. Matt says:

    Erik Prince is a dangerous war criminal and should be shunned from civil society. He has no place speaking on a college campus. If you want a voice of dissent, invite Noam Chomsky.

  11. Katherine DeFoyd says:

    President Bierman,

    I have grown accustomed to the far right’s habit of distorting the facts – but I expect more from a scholar.

    The timeline that documents the sequence of events last night makes clear what happened. No one prevented Eric Prince from speaking. He was a coward and decided to cancel his own appearance. Please do not conflate his personal decision to not even step foot on campus with preventing free speech. He interrupted his own free speech. He was a no show. He chose not to follow through with his remarks.

    Sad hero of the far right if you ask me. He let the handful of students at Beloit who agree with him down. And, really three drummers, a cake baking class, and a drag show scared him away? Is he so scared of a bunch of coeds at a quirky liberal arts college in Wisconsin – seriously? He bears responsibility for not engaging in true dialogue – not the student protesters.

    BTW – Where did the Young Americans for Freedom Beloit student group with fewer than a dozen students find the funding to bring Erik Prince on campus. Like most former CEOs, his speaker fees are listed at near $25K per speech? Did the YAF students hold a bake sale on the Beloit campus? That does not seem like free speech – that seems like expensive speech. I’m guessing well-funded by outside parties expensive speech? What is up with that? Can anyone buy their way onto speaking on campus? Lot’s of questions need to be answered. Free speech – really? Come on. The world is truly lopsided.

    1. Ginny Monsma says:

      Thankyou! great post!

    2. Elisabeth says:

      Funding question is a very good one.

  12. Leslie Sirag says:

    It doesn’t sound as though Prince was in any danger at any time,. Where was he?
    This sounds like a right wing ploy to stifle dissent.

  13. Norman Aulabaugh says:

    Mr. Bierman, you should be proud of your students. Sir, there was absolutely no reason Mr. Prince could not have taken the stage at 7:30 to deliver his talk. At best, there would have been a slight disruption as people walked out. I direct your attention to the photos that appear in the Roundtable.…/scheduled-speech…/

    I was seated directly behind the gentleman with the bald head in the picture at the bottom right on this link. This was the scene in the hall at 7:30 when Prince was to speak. There is no reason Prince could not have advanced easily to the lectern. We all sat there patiently waiting for Prince. He never showed himself. Finally at 8:00 PM, having waited a half an hour, people got up and placed their chairs on the stage as a sign of protest. At 8:15, when it was finally announced that Prince would not speak, the chairs were removed and the room restored to its original condition.

    Norman Aulabaugh – Orfordville

  14. Edward Saroyan says:

    Mr Prince once told George W. Bush that he would put heads on stakes in Afghanistan. I dare say that country like many others needs no more of that.
    We need give no public airwaves to the fascists, the war profiteers, the people who stir hate, xenophobia, war. Prince needs to be challenged
    everywhere, all the time.

  15. DEAN DYKE says:

    I would go one farther and say this is a merchant of war and has no place on any college campus. There is literally nothing to be learned from such a Trump flunky in any venue. Shame on you for inviting him.

  16. Baruch says:

    Respect for the students who protested and huge shame on the administration that invited Prince, war criminal, fascist, mass murderer, to speak. Whoever did that should lose their job and be blacklisted from academia.

  17. William Grewe-Mullins says:

    Eric Prince is the perfect embodiment of our current “Anything for a buck”, Trump Brand Capitalism. He’s a warlord, he’s a war criminal, he’s a war profiteer. His companies regularly get away with literal murder (although they occasionally get caught, they get away with it more often than not). Seriously, kids, even you conservative kids, this guy is not a role model or anyone whose advice you want to listen to.

  18. Justin Green says:

    Freedom of speech does not require anyone to give you the platform to exercise it. Let me wish you from the deepest parts of my heart wish you Cholera of the anus your war profiteering piece of shit.

  19. Pingback: Ultimas Noticias Destacadas Erik Prince, criminal de guerra y copo de nieve, cancela la conversación de Beloit College después de protestas estudiantiles, amenaza con una demanda / Boing Boing – Peru Global
  20. Trackback: Ultimas Noticias Destacadas Erik Prince, criminal de guerra y copo de nieve, cancela la conversación de Beloit College después de protestas estudiantiles, amenaza con una demanda / Boing Boing – Peru Global
  21. Ron Harper says:

    Disruption of speaking events involving those with differing opinions is tactic from Nazi Germany in the 1930’s. The failure of Beloit College administration to address this issue head on is indicative of its laissez-faire management style. It is hypocritical to say you welcome open dialogue with differing opinions then drop the safety concerns card (you have security and police, right?) or where the opposing viewpoint is interpreted by students to go against the values of the organization to justify their childlike misbehavior. So disappointed in Beloit College management. I intentionally didn’t use the term leadership as the term doesn’t qualify to be applied to the decision makers of Beloit College.

  22. Pingback: Campus responds to cancelled Erik Prince lecture – The Round Table
  23. Trackback: Campus responds to cancelled Erik Prince lecture – The Round Table
  24. Brian says:

    Do they receive federal funds?? Than by law they are answerable.

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