Conservative commentator Cabot Phillips criticizes ‘liberal privilege’ on college campuses at Turning Point event


Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Cabot Phillips speaking at the 2016 Young Americans for Liberty National Convention at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

By Rebecca Johnson, Editor-in-Chief

Right-wing commentator Cabot Phillips spoke with conservative students at Pitt Friday evening, saying “There is nothing that gives you privilege about being a white male at a college campus.”

“Liberal privilege is the most prevalent and dominant privilege on campus because that’s what’s going to make your life easier than anything else on a college campus,” Phillips said. “Liberal privilege means you can bring any speaker you want. You’re not going to have to have police, metal detectors because conservative students don’t form mobs on campus to try and shut down ideas they don’t like.” 

Not everyone who attended the event supported his message. About 20 students carrying signs saying “Protect trans students” continued talking when Phillips first took the mic. Phillips was met with boos when he said, “We can try this thing called dialogue where we talk back and forth.” Students said they weren’t interested in having a conversation.   

About five minutes later, Pitt police kicked the group out of the event. On the way out, one of the students said “We didn’t do anything wrong” and “We will not allow you to continue to oppress us.” At the Cathedral of Learning, about 300 people protested ahead of Phillips’ event.

Phillips — a writer at the conservative website The Daily Wire — railed against mainstream media in O’Hara Student Center at his event titled “Everything the Media Won’t Tell You.” He said the media wants conservatives to feel “isolated” in order to make them think their ideas are “radical” and “crazy.” About 25 people attended the event hosted by Pitt’s Turning Point USA chapter.  

“The reason that it’s such a shock to people on campus that there are conservative speakers coming here is because conservative ideas are not getting shared on college campuses,” Phillips said. 

Phillips’ speech is the first in a series of “anti-trans” events that have led to student outcry. Turning Point will also host Riley Gaines, a 12-time NCAA All-American swimmer and vehement critic of transgender athletes competing in women’s sports, on Monday. On April 18, Pitt’s College Republicans and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute invited Michael Knowles to debate “transgenderism and womanhood.” 

More than 11,000 people signed a petition urging the University to cancel these events, as transgender and queer students raised concerns about their safety on campus. The Pennsylvania House LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus also condemned Pitt for hosting the events. 

At various points throughout his speech, Phillips referenced a Wednesday event with Dylan Mulvaney, a trans actress and content creator. The Student Government Board awarded Rainbow Alliance $26,250 to host Mulvaney during the organization’s Pride Week. 

“How funny it is to me that the University doled out $26,000 for Dylan Mulvaney to come to the campus,” Phillips said. “But that they did everything possible to wash their hands of conservative events of which they did not pay or fund.”

“If the University cared about protecting marginalized voices, they’d be spending that money to bring more conservative speakers, because it’s conservative students’ voices that are marginalized,” he added.

In a media statement released earlier this month, Pitt said it understands the events are “toxic and harmful” for people in the Pitt community, and is committed to “support” people who might be “negatively affected.” However, a University spokesperson said registered student organizations have the right to invite “highly provocative” speakers on campus “without University administration deciding what is acceptable and what is not.” 

In an email sent to students on Wednesday, Dean Carla Panzella said she understands Pitt’s policy to “uphold the principle of protected speech will not feel sufficient to some in our community” and that she “[stands] with” LGBTQIA+ students. If students disagree with the speakers, she said they can peacefully protest, engage in “productive dialogue” or host a counter speaker.

Liliana Orozco, president of Pitt’s Turning Point USA chapter and a junior law, criminal justice and society major, said she thinks the event was “successful.” 

“We’re happy that we got so many opposing viewpoints. We really did,” Orozco said. “It was a great conversation, and we thank everybody for coming out, conservatives or not. It was a great conversation.”

During the Q&A portion of the event, students shared examples of when they believed they faced discrimination in the classroom due to their conservative opinions. Orozco said a professor told her she was “spreading misinformation” in a discussion post from a “conservative viewpoint” about the murder of George Floyd, even though she cited “credible sources.” She said she got a zero on the assignment. 

College Republicans vice president Joshua Minsky said sometimes it’s difficult to stand up for his beliefs, especially because he plans to apply to medical school. He referenced a video that went viral on TikTok of him saying “the highest dropout rates in places like Harvard and other elite universities tend to come from marginalized people because they cannot handle the curriculum because they came from a bad school district” at a Monday debate between the College Republicans and College Democrats.

“Pitt is a big pre-med school, right, and I know a lot of people that are pre-med that are my friends that don’t want to speak out because they’re afraid of stuff like grad school admissions,” Minsky said.

Robert Westmeyer, a first-year student who attended the event, said he enjoyed hearing Phillips speak because they’re aren’t many conservative speakers coming to campus. If anything, he said he wishes “more people showed up” and that the “activists were a bit more civil.”