The Status of Free Speech at UNH

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Wednesday, May 30, 2018


On May 1st, I attended a free speech event hosted by Dave Rubin at the University of New Hampshire. Originally, controversial speakers Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens were supposed to join Dave, but ultimately canceled. This left just Mr. Rubin to speak to students. Unfortunately, it didn’t go as planned.

Dave Rubin has built his following from The Young Turks and now from his own YouTube channel, “The Rubin Report,” where he conducts long-form interviews with various authors, journalists, comedians, intellectuals, etc. Being an avid listener of the show, one thing I enjoy is that Rubin doesn’t seem to be very partisan. Rubin’s views are constantly evolving, but he seems to be in the mainstream on most issues. At this point, it would be fair to call him a moderate Libertarian. Despite Libertarianism being a mainstream school of thought in American politics, protestors at UNH didn’t seem to think so.

Sitting at the front of the line, I was eagerly awaiting Rubin’s speech. About 20 minutes after I arrived, a large group started to form and tried to block off students from entering the building for the event. I wasn’t too bothered by the protests, but just hoped it would be done in a respectful manner. As I saw fellow students join in on protesting, I began to wonder what exactly their grievances were with Dave. It seemed to me that most of the protestors were from a campus anti-racism group, yet I’m still not sure of what Dave has said to agitate such a response from them.

After some difficulties, students were finally allowed into the venue, and, eventually, Mr. Rubin came out to speak. All was well until about 10 minutes into his speech. A couple standing 5 feet away from me, got up from their seats and started chanting “Black Lives Matter.” They carried on for about 3 minutes until Rubin asked them to please sit down because he did not want security to have to kick them out. Incidents like this occurred throughout the whole event.

Protesters constantly trying to drown out the lecture with the various types of noise makers they brought. While I understand how frustrating the experience could be for Dave, ultimately, I think he handled the situation in a horrible way. Whether it be through making fun of protesters or cursing at them, Dave continually attacked these people, as they attacked him. Though most of his tactics were quite hilarious as an audience member, I think that they were rather counterproductive in the long run.

The past few years have been difficult for free speech absolutists. With the rise in outrage culture on both sides of the political spectrum, it can be difficult to say a controversial opinion to people of opposite political beliefs. While the left has been embarrassed by “safe spaces” and such on college campuses, the right has not been innocent when it comes to respectful discourse. Though many right-leaning individuals, like Rubin, allow for opposing speech to be heard, it doesn’t mean that they treat all political opponents with respect.

One exchange that stood out during the lecture, was one that Rubin had with a young woman in the crowd. After some heckling, she finally was able to ask her question and asked Rubin about his stance on Free Speech. Specifically, she wanted to know about the correlation between violence and hate speech, considering he had said at the beginning of the lecture that “hate speech” was not real. Though I agree with his overall sentiment and the point he was trying to make, Rubin was not clear when trying to explain his point.

Of course, there is such a thing as hate speech. Any rational thinker can denounce such speech as bigoted, racist, etc. What Rubin should’ve explained was that “hate speech” today has been demeaned, and that “hate speech” has come to mean a different thing to some people. When the student continually asked him between the correlation between violence and hate speech, he gave no real answer, and engaged in a fairly disrespectful exchange, that could’ve been easily avoided.

For anyone who considers themselves a Free Speech Absolutist, this is an easy question to answer. There’s no doubt that people who hold such vile views, may be inclined to hurt groups that they speak ill about. We should attempt to create a society based on respect through conversation, and not through government limiting what one can and cannot say. The only way to curb people from holding such disgusting views, is to engage in conversation and disprove them at every turn possible.

Rubin should’ve responded with such a sentiment in a respectful, and calm tone, as it could’ve made his point not sound like he was a fringe commentator covering for anti-Semitism or any other type of bigotry.

Even though the lecture had its ups and down, it was a great experience for me. Though engaging with opponents in a somewhat disrespectful way can be a sort of “thrill” for some people, our foremost duty should be to remain civil.

The number one response around campus in regard to Rubin’s lecture was that he continually preached about civil discourse, yet did not engage in one himself. I see this argument very often about right-wingers, and I believe it is a valid criticism.

The right should always remember to hold the mirror to themselves and hold themselves to the same standard that they are holding their political opponents to because our rhetoric will only go so far without real action.

Alex Iatrou is a student at the University of New Hampshire, pursuing a degree in Political Science. He considers himself a Libertarian and is most interested in civil liberties and free speech. Other interests include history, reading, music and Boston sports.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.


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About Alex Iatrou

University of New Hampshire

Alex Iatrou is a student at the University of New Hampshire, pursuing a degree in Political Science. He considers himself a Libertarian and is most interested in civil liberties and free speech. Other interests include history, reading, music and Boston sports.

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