University leaders denounce repulsive comments of social media personalities

October 22, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The student chapter of Turning Point USA at Penn State has invited two YouTube personalities to speak on the topic of “Big Tech Censorship” on Oct. 23 on the University Park campus. Past comments by these individuals have been both inflammatory and controversial, and the University has put into place a number of measures aimed at the safety and security of its community, including requiring tickets for the event and prohibiting numerous items from entering the venue, such as backpacks. A full list of prohibited items is available online

The speakers, Hunter Avallone and Carl Benjamin (“Sargon of Akkad” online), have both been banned from social media platform Twitter for their derogatory and hateful comments about various groups. University leaders want community members to know that the presence of any speaker on campus is in no way an endorsement by the University of particular views or beliefs and have issued the following statement:   

UNIVERSITY STATEMENT: 

The prior hateful, grotesque and disturbing views expressed by these individuals are in direct conflict with the University’s values, and we profoundly disagree with the views that have been espoused by both individuals. We understand that some of the repulsive language used by these individuals in the past has been extremely hurtful. The University stands with our community members who oppose this hate-filled and derisive rhetoric, and we remain committed to our belief in civil discourse, inclusivity and diversity.   

A recognized student organization is sponsoring this event and, even though the University profoundly disagrees with the viewpoints expressed by these individuals, Penn State is obligated to protect freedom of expression on campus. This obligation means that the University cannot take action against such speakers, the groups sponsoring them, nor the allocation of student fees (by the student-led University Park Allocation Committee (UPAC)) on the basis of the viewpoint to be expressed. Nor should we.   

Universities must protect and encourage free speech, especially speech with which we disagree, no matter how offensive, as this freedom of expression is fundamental to the very idea of a university. Without free speech, a university cannot fulfill its most basic purposes, which include fostering freedom of thought and ideological diversity. While it is our obligation under the First Amendment to protect free speech and expression, only by doing so can a university create and nurture the truly open and inclusive community focused on learning and understanding that we all seek.   

By using derogatory and divisive language, controversial speakers know they will gain attention from those who disagree with them, which serves to further broaden the platform for their inflammatory messages. It is our hope that our students and community members who disagree with these speakers will disregard these tactics and find ways to thoughtfully respond — without confrontation. The Southern Poverty Law Center has compiled a guide with information about how students can effectively and peacefully respond to controversial speakers when they visit campus.    

The well-being of students, faculty and staff members is the University’s priority and Penn State provides a range of assistance and support available for those who may need these resources. Students can contact one of the centers on campus, such as the Gender Equity and Sexual and Gender Diversity or the Multicultural Resource Center, and faculty and staff can use the Employee Assistance Program, a free, confidential resource for personal or work-related concerns. Here are additional resources: 

  • Call Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at 

    814-863-0395 (M-F, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.) 

  • Call the 24/7 Penn State Crisis Line at 1-877-229-6400 

  •  Text the 24/7 Crisis Text Line: Text “LIONS” to 741741 

In addition, campus community members who experience or witness bias or discrimination, can make a report online through the Office of Education Equity at equity.psu.edu/reportbias

 
Last Updated October 23, 2019