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Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Conservative pundit Ben Shapiro lectures to turbulent crowd on safe spaces, freedom of speech

Protests prompt yelling match over “safety” and “decency”
Katie Cooney

Conservative public speaker Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief for and host of The Ben Shapiro Show, spoke at the University of Wisconsin to make his case against safe spaces and other recent movements on college campuses he sees as inhibiting free speech Wednesday.

Protesters met atop Bascom Hill an hour before Shapiro’s speech to coordinate their efforts to show their opposition to his event, which was called “Dismantling Safe Spaces: Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings.”

Cody Fearing, a UW senior studying sociology, was one of ten people organizing the protest. Fearing said they felt the need to organize the protest because just the event’s name illustrates an unwillingness to recognize the reality of institutional, systemic and personal violences that exist on campus.


Fearing said though Shapiro says he didn’t support President-elect Donald Trump during the campaign, which Shapiro reiterated in his speech, he uses his media presence to mobilize voters and ideologies driven by white supremacy.

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Rose Klein, UW fifth-year student majoring in elementary education and fellow organizer, said she helped because Shapiro’s presence on campus is a threat to underprivileged populations’ sense of safety.

Shapiro made light of the protests on Twitter and in his speech.

Shapiro focused on how free speech relates to issues of microaggression, or everyday messages that communicate something hostile to a marginalized group, safe spaces and white privilege.

He said efforts on college campuses to create safe spaces inhibit students’ and faculty’s right to free speech.

He kicked off his speech by holding up a box of safety pins, a symbol used since the Nov. 8 election as a show of solidarity with vulnerable citizens.

“I also brought along something to wear them with,” Shapiro said. “This diaper.”

This and similar comments garnered laughter from the packed room.

When the first protester to speak up said he could draw a swastika for him, the crowd booed and pointed out that Shapiro is Jewish.

Shapiro then addressed the protests and said he was aware of the private Facebook event “Fuck White Supremacy: Interrupting Ben Shapiro.”

“With all due respect, eff you right back,” Shapiro said.

Shouts escalated on both sides throughout the evening, with protesters repeatedly interrupting Shapiro’s speech yelling the words “shame” and “safety,” and some non-protesting audience members countering with “decency” or yelling at the protesters to “shut up” and “get out.”

Tensions came to a head when protesters formed a line in front of the stage, with UW Police Department officers standing nearby, and repeated their “safety” chant.

The room filled with loud, chaotic yelling. Audience members held up pieces of paper detailing UWPD protest guidelines and chanted, “Free speech matters.”

Klein said the protesters notified UWPD about their intention to interrupt Shapiro’s speech and established boundaries of what they could and couldn’t do, such as using megaphones or surrounding attendees.

Shapiro at one point called for UWPD to stop the obstruction, but the protesters left of their own accord by all accounts. He later said if police had arrested the protesters, they would have shut down the entire event.

Continuing with his speech, Shapiro said it is the “vilest form of bullshit racism” for one to suggest all white people who disagree with them are racist. He said though black people have suffered historic discrimination, it does not mean they are currently suffering from institutional discrimination.

He said he opposed UW’s new Our Wisconsin program, an effort to promote inclusion among incoming freshmen.

UW officials unveil initiatives to address campus racial climate

After his speech, Shapiro held an hour-long question and answer session with students and community members about socialism, fixing the education system and promoting traditional family structures.

Young Americans for Freedom chair Kara Bell said she was excited to bring Shapiro to campus as a controversial speaker who has been visiting campuses across the country. She said YAF is an ideologically conservative campus organization promoting free speech, a strong military and limited government.

“It’s really great for political groups to be able to have different organizations that lead in different things on campus, because it really allows for open dialogue and attendance and protests,” Bell said.

Though Bell was against the protests, she said it both generated publicity and showed that students have alternate viewpoints.

Cabell Sitteer, a UW senior majoring in mechanical engineering, said he wanted to hear Shapiro speak because he wanted to hear from someone with similar ideals.

“I’ve been hearing a lot of the other side in Madison here,” Sitteer said. “I just wanted to get my spirits lifted, I guess, so I’m not alone.”

Sitteer said he hopes the protesters understand they were only proving Shapiro’s point. He encouraged all students on campus to make an effort to listen to the other side.

Sean Leary, a UW junior majoring in computer science, similarly said he came to hear a different opinion.

After the event, Bell said the speech was “awesome,” though the first 20 minutes when the protesters stood up was a “little uneasy.” 

“The biggest problem was because the university police were not able to necessarily escort them out, so we just kind of had to wait it out,” Bell said. “Luckily I had the contact of the man who put the protest together, and I [said to] him ‘you need to leave because I put a lot work into this event, and it’s disrespectful.’”

Bell said Klein then agreed to leave in five minutes. Klein is transgender and prefers the pronouns she and her.

In the Multicultural Student Center, protesters gathered by a “Ben Shapiro Debrief” sign to discuss the event.

Protest organizer Ricardo de la Cruz II said they knew what they might encounter going into the event, but he found it hurtful seeing people of color in the audience who sided against them.

“We all kind of have a disgusting feeling,” he said. “You see these people on campus every day. There’s a lot of people I saw in that room that I didn’t know would be attending. It just shows the two-facedness of it. They’ll smile in your face but get real bold when they feel like they have a whole crowd backing them.”

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