California State University, Los Angeles – February 25, 2016

Shapiro delivers speech amid protests, files suit against university

Los Angeles, California

In February 2016, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro delivered a speech titled “When Diversity Becomes a Problem” at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA). The lecture took place despite demands for extra security funds, student protests, and university president William Covino’s efforts to postpone it. Students and professors reportedly blockaded the entrances and exits to the venue where Shapiro spoke. Protesters also allegedly activated the building’s fire alarm.

Key Figures

Ben Shapiro is a conservative commentator who has served as editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire and editor-at-large of Breitbart News. In 2016, Shapiro spoke to students at numerous universities on a tour that was financially supported by the conservative youth organization Young America’s Foundation, which funds campus chapters of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). His travels had the intention of “invading campus ‘safe spaces,’” according to a Daily Wire press release. His speech at CSULA was protested. In the wake of the event, Shapiro, a CSULA student, and the campus chapter of YAF filed a lawsuit against the university.

William Covino is president of CSULA. He attempted to postpone Shapiro’s appearance due to safety concerns, reports The Washington Post. When Shapiro refused to alter the date of his appearance, Covino said, “I strongly disagree with Mr. Shapiro’s views. But if Mr. Shapiro does appear, the University will allow him to speak. We will make every effort to ensure a climate of safety and security.”

Mark Kahanding is an undergraduate student studying finance at CSULA. He is also chair of its YAF chapter. As a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the university, he claimed he was falsely imprisoned when the protesters obstructed the exits from the venue.

Further Details

Prior to his scheduled visit to CSULA, Shapiro made controversial stops at the University of Missouri in Columbia and Otay Ranch High School in San Diego. The Facebook event publicizing his upcoming visit to CSULA, which has a large Latino population, drew attention and criticism from the campus community. A counter-event was organized by those who opposed Shapiro’s views and the use of the student government body’s funds to support his lecture.

The university asked the event’s organizers to pay more than $600 for special security arrangements, though ultimately the fee was not paid. When Shapiro arrived to deliver his lecture on February 25, professors and students protested his appearance by violently blocking access to the space, according to the lawsuit against the university.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit alleged that the physical blockade created by the protest, as well as other threats made, created a situation in which Shapiro was “forced to speak to a half-empty theater,” and thus was declined his fundamental rights to free speech and expression. The legal action was eventually dropped after the university agreed to implement new rules to protect free speech.

Outcome

Shapiro delivered speech

Despite attempts to cancel and postpone the event, Ben Shapiro spoke on campus on February 25, 2016. He expressed an interest in returning to the CSULA campus and speaking to a larger audience.

Failed attempt to oust university president

CSULA’s president received intense criticism for permitting Shapiro to speak, but students who called for his removal were unsuccessful.

University sued, suit dropped

Shapiro, Kahanding, and YAF filed a lawsuit against CSULA in which they claimed the school had violated the First and Fourth amendments to the US Constitution. University officials publically accepted demands they change policies surrounding the First Amendment, so the suit was dropped by the plaintiffs.

External References:

Dennis Romero, LA Weekly

Hank Berrien, The Daily Wire

Natalie Johnson, Daily Signal

Prepared by Bridget McElroy ‘18

December 7, 2017