The Pitt News

Editorial: Let Yiannopoulos speak, but don’t engage with him

Some protesters became violent during Milo Yiannopoulos' visit to the University of California, Berkeley. Courtesty of Daniel Kim/The Daily Californian.

Some protesters became violent during Milo Yiannopoulos' visit to the University of California, Berkeley. Courtesty of Daniel Kim/The Daily Californian.

Some protesters became violent during Milo Yiannopoulos' visit to the University of California, Berkeley. Courtesty of Daniel Kim/The Daily Californian.

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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Editor’s note: The Pitt News’ editorial board had an intense discussion about the effects of incendiary rhetoric, the intent of civil disobedience and the line between free and hate speech. Ultimately, the board was divided on many of these topics — and quick to admit that our positions as college students mean we feel more optimistic about the potential for change through democratic measures than others. Ultimately, given Pitt’s own experience with Yiannopoulos, this is what the board came away with. As always, we welcome responses.

Pitt is far from unfamiliar with Milo Yiannopoulos, the British journalist, public speaker and editor at Breitbart News.

Yiannopoulos visited Pitt in March 2016, where the support he received from the conservatives who hosted him on campus was easily overshadowed by liberal students’ criticism. Yet, Yiannopoulos’ visit to the University of California, Berkeley, last week caused a much more aggressive reaction. Campus police were forced to cancel the event due to safety concerns after more than 100 protesters took to campus in opposition to Yiannopoulos’ speech Wednesday night — causing over $100,000 in damages that resulted from throwing rocks and fireworks at police, starting fires and bashing university windows.

No one’s doubting that Yiannopoulos is a controversial figure, or even a downright bigot, but what all this fighting, arguing and trash can burning ignores is the question of why we’re giving attention to Yiannopoulos in the first place. Like any self-righteous bully looking for attention, we should stop giving him acknowledgement and validity.

We recognize this isn’t an easy task, especially if you’re a person or group who is a target of Yiannopoulos’ hateful comments — among his more controversial comments were attacks on a West Virginia University professor for his sexuality and the harassment of Saturday Night Live’s Leslie Jones. Reacting with passionate protesting is the logical response to ensuring your voice is heard, but at the same time, the visceral response Yiannopoulos elicits is the very same thing that contributes to his growing recognition.

While we can’t stop him from saying whatever he wants, the more impactful thing we could do is ask ourselves why we are listening. Yiannopoulos has little formal education after dropping out of both the University of Manchester and Wolfson College, Cambridge, and he’s gained his fame not through work or a commitment to journalism but through numerous internet controversies.

He offers little to no qualifications or life experiences that would warrant his opinion on such issues as race, gender equity or any of the various other social and cultural topics he engages with daily. His only virtue is being hostile and causing a ruckus — so when he’s invited to speak at universities, chaos is the only consistent result. With so little to offer, we shouldn’t be debating whether or not he should be allowed to speak, but why anyone would want to invite him at all.

It can be undoubtedly frustrating for conservative students on college campuses to make their voices heard and find role models to validate their ideologies — and there’s nothing wrong with young conservatives trying to do just that — but that’s not what Yiannopoulos is nor is it why people bring him to town. He’s commonly heralded as a validation of the right to free speech, but why fight so hard for speech that isn’t constructive or knowledgeable?

Patrick Young, a strategic campaigner at United Steelworkers, tagged Pitt College Republicans in a post on Facebook Sunday in reaction to the protests at UC Berkeley. In it, he said that if the club invited Yiannopoulos back to Pitt, he could ensure the events from California would look like “a candlelight vigil” in comparison.

Young’s response is aggressive and not one shared by the entire University community at Pitt, but it does illustrate the ability of Yiannopoulos to elicit negative responses from the liberal community rather than provide any substantial intellectual or political contributions.

Inviting him to speak at a college is an action just as incendiary as actually lightning a trash can on fire in protest of him. None of it is doing anyone any good, other than giving Yiannopoulos a bigger platform from which to preach his baseless facts and hateful speech.  

We’re certain Yiannopoulos isn’t willing to go away, but let’s make the choice on both sides of the aisle to say goodbye — and good riddance — to him.  

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The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper
Editorial: Let Yiannopoulos speak, but don’t engage with him