Saturday morning I woke up to a Facebook notification from Trinitonian opinion editor Daniel Conrad. “Sarah Haley ur famous,” he commented on a post in Overheard at Trinity, the Facebook page that functions as a messaging board of sorts for Trinity students. Expecting the typical Overhead shenanigans, like Dean Tuttle’s face photoshopped onto various public figures and pop-culture characters, I instead was greeted by a high-definition photograph of me with a pacifier in my mouth, standing next to Breitbart tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos, featured in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
This story truly starts back in April of this year, when Tigers for Liberty, a student organization that brings libertarian and conservative perspectives to Trinity, brought Milo to lecture on microaggressions as part of his ongoing college campus speaking tour, the “Dangerous Faggot Tour.” It was a controversial lecture by an iconically controversial man. I don’t need to rehash all of the discourse that ensued. But I do feel that, given the prominence of the WSJ and the lack of context they’ve provided for the photo I’m in, I should respond to this recent development.
Milo is a prominent figure in alternative-right political movements online; he works to fight against political correctness, which he says infringes on freedom of speech. He positions himself as antithetical to the social justice warrior (SJW), a typically pejorative term used to describe someone who advocates for socially progressive concepts such as feminism and multiculturalism. In his opening remarks, Milo shared his views on SJWs.
“Social justice in general, I’ve come to the conclusion, is for mediocre, ugly people,” Milo said during his lecture. He went on to ramble about how the wage gap isn’t real and made jokes about Catholic priests and sexually abusing children for a little under 30 minutes. Like most lectures at Trinity, once he concluded his speech, there was a Q&A portion where anyone in attendance at the lecture could approach one of two microphones and pose a question. It’s not every day one has the chance to directly interact with an icon of the contemporary far right, especially at a relatively liberal university like Trinity.
I stepped up to the microphone to pose my question, the first of the night.
“At the beginning of your talk, you said that social justice is for mediocre, ugly people,” I said. Milo confirmed. I continued: “My question for you is, doesn’t that make you a social justice warrior?”
This sick burn disguised as a question in which I turn Milo’s own logic “” or lack thereof “” against him, evoked chants of “TRUMP! TRUMP! TRUMP!” from Milo’s supportive audience. Milo asked for the next question. As I returned to my seat, Milo had a brief moment of mental clarity in which he remembered he had brought along a pacifier to give away, a signature move of his. Milo has made a habit of presenting pacifiers to feminists and following the gesture with a planned joke about it. He called me back onto the stage to accept the gift. I obliged.
“We call pacifiers dummies in the U.K., which is exactly what you are, madame,” Milo said to me over the loud speakers as I returned to my seat a second time, pacifier in mouth. I chose to go along with the bit rather than be ashamed, silenced or slink off into obscurity. The power of his statement lies only in my willingness to be hurt by it, and I was more disappointed in his inability to verbally spar with me or come up with a witty comeback than anything. This man who is so well-known for being caustic in his language, so much so that he is permanently banned from Twitter, evidently didn’t know how to handle my question. Even a dummy can enjoy some low-brow humor once in awhile.
Milo’s visit to Trinity also brings up a more important question related to the topic of the WSJ piece, which reports New York University canceling Milo’s stop at their campus. NYU reportedly canceled the event where Milo was scheduled to speak due to “safety concerns,” sparking discussions about whether the institution’s role in fostering exchanges of ideas is at odds with its duty to keep students safe.
When Milo came to Trinity, Tigers for Liberty raised money to pay for TUPD to be at the event. Yes, Milo’s presence brought a potentially dangerous and violent fanbase to Trinity’s campus, as the event was free and open to the public. But that vague potential can be addressed through the presence of university police rather than allowing fear of that potential to prevent different perspectives from being heard on college campuses. I don’t have to agree with a single thing Milo says or does to defend the importance of universities remaining places of intellectual curiosity, not of censorship and coddling.
It is possible to prioritize security and still allow for controversial discussions to take place. Trinity has distinguished itself from NYU by allowing Milo to speak, even though his views do not align with those of the institution itself. An ambiguous and seemingly ever-expanding definition of student safety has the potential to stint intellectual growth. It is encouraging to see Trinity not succumbing to that.
NYU canceling his appearance only bolsters alt-right claims that liberal universities’ political correctness stifles freedom of speech. Canceling controversial non-progressive events serves to perpetuate the notion of the standard liberal bastion and lends undue legitimacy to alt-right claims of censorship. Educational institutions should not be echo chambers, which organizations like Tigers for Liberty prevent. It doesn’t serve the community to pretend like Milo and his followers don’t exist. I much prefer the method of allowing them to have a voice, and thus allowing there to be a public conversation.
I’m proud to go to a school where this abrasive icon was permitted to visit, and thus where I was permitted to challenge him. Pride aside, I am glad my full name isn’t attached to the picture of Milo and me in the WSJ; something tells me the lack of context could be problematic in the eyes of future employers.