Is YAF Trying to Provoke Students?
This story was originally published in the September 16 issue of the Round Table.
On October 10th Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) are planning to bring former Vice President Dick Cheney to speak. The last speaker that YAF brought to campus was Erik Prince who never actually spoke in part due to students neatly piling chairs on the stage he was supposed to use and also in part because it makes a better headline to say he was prevented from exercising his right to free speech. Citing safety concerns, Prince went off campus to speak to a small group of people including YAF members about first amendment rights. This was far from the ‘possible free market solutions to American foreign policy’ that he was going to speak about in Pearsons.
Prince was not the first controversial speaker to be brought to campus by YAF. John Ashcroft, former Secretary of State from the Bush administration, was invited even though he encouraged and allowed ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, otherwise known as torture, on terrorist suspects. There were many reports of the US waterboarding, which involves drowning the subject temporarily, suspected terrorists during his tenure at the Justice Department. At the end of his speech he only answered three questions leaving many hands still raised before abruptly leaving. He failed to engage intellectually with the audience at all, making the stage his, and by extension YAF’s, personal soapbox from which he preached his controversial views to the masses unchallenged.
This behavior leads to the unfortunate conclusion that YAF does not want to start a dialogue. If they did they would invite speakers who are willing to be critiqued and are willing to interact with students instead of fleeing downtown only to cry wolf about their first amendment rights in an echo chamber of their own design. To call them sympathetic victims would be a gross misidentification.
Perhaps the most unfortunate reality, however, is that people outside of campus are believing the narrative that YAF is just another conservative club that is being oppressed at a Liberal Arts College. Though no one at Prince’s speech was violent in any way, newspapers characterized the incident as a rambunctious protest. And though Ashcroft refused to engage with anyone, his speech was heralded as a success for opening a dialogue between liberal and conservative students.
Being Beloit College Students, YAF members should be above the type of behavior their invited guests have demonstrated. Yet, they have not taken accountability for Ashcroft’s failure to be open to critique or taken steps to clarify the miss characterization of student behavior at Prince’s speech. That shows that YAF is not inviting these speakers to advance thought and discussion but to provoke students. At that point, the question must be asked if YAF should be more regulated like many of the other clubs and student organizations on campus so they are forced to invite speakers that actually engage with students.