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University of Ottawa

Ann Coulter. (Nicolas Khayat/Abaca Press/MCT)
The group, armed with laptops, surrounds a table in apartment 10F of McMahon Residence Hall, monitoring their Facebook and Twitter pages. (Ian McKenna/The Observer)

The event has been cancelled. Click here for more.  

By IAN MCKENNA
Managing Editor
Published: November 9, 2012

UPDATED (7:40pm): 

Joseph M. McShane, S.J., President of Fordham University released a statement to the university on Nov. 9, 2012 explaining his reaction to the decision from the College Republicans to invite Ann Coulter to campus. This comes after Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) students have organized a campaign against a scheduled appearance at the university by the right-wing commentator on Nov. 29.

Ann Coulter. (Nicolas Khayat/Abaca Press/MCT)

His statement can be read in its entirety here.

“To say that I am disappointed with the judgment and maturity of the College Republicans, however, would be a tremendous understatement,” McShane wrote in his email to the Fordham Community but said that student groups are encouraged to “invite speakers who represent diverse, and sometimes unpopular, points of view.”

“There are many people who can speak to the conservative point of view with integrity and conviction, but Ms. Coulter is not among them. Her rhetoric is often hateful and needlessly provocative—more heat than light—and her message is aimed squarely at the darker side of our nature.”

McShane also referenced last year’s string of discriminatory acts of vandalism, saying that he holds out “great contempt for anyone who would intentionally inflict pain on another human being because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or creed.”

McShane, however, highlighted the fact that “Student groups are allowed, and encouraged, to invite speakers who represent diverse, and sometimes unpopular, points of view, in keeping with the canons of academic freedom.” AS such, the administration’s decision is to not take action against the College Republicans or the event, allowing Coulter to appear and speak as scheduled.

“To prohibit Ms. Coulter from speaking at Fordham would be to do greater violence to the academy, and to the Jesuit tradition of fearless and robust engagement. Preventing Ms. Coulter from speaking would counter one wrong with another,” McShane also included in his e-mail, saying that this instance has created an opportunity for us, as a university, to test our own character.

The idea that the Coulter event should proceed, despite her representing messages that go against the overall Jesuit traditions of the Fordham community, seems to be mimicked by some parts of the University.

In a memo to her colleagues on the morning of Nov. 9th, Gwenyth Jackaway, associate chair of the communication and media studies program at Lincoln Center, said she was “saddened and disappointed that there are students at Fordham who would want to invite Ms. Coulter to speak here.”

“Some people express their views that seem particularly intended to inflame emotions that can be harmful to the safety and stability of our society,” Jackaway said, referring to Coulter and people from parties across the political spectrum.

While obviously opposed to Coulter’s politics and agenda on a personal level, Jackaway admits that it is not the place of the university to dictate who may and may not be allowed to speak on campus.

“All ideas, even the ideas that offend us the most. In fact, those are probably the ones that we ought to be discussing them most. It is easy to discuss safe topics. We all need practice in learning how to disagree with civility,” Jackaway said.

But her scheduled appearance seems to provide a challenge for Jackaway.

“I feel we have a responsibility to model what tolerance looks like. It is easy to be tolerant of people you agree with. The real test of the liberal sensibility is to model tolerance even to those who are intolerant of tolerance. There is the rub,” Jackaway remarked.

As a professor of the Freedom of Expression course, Jackaway feels strongly that, even though she has become known as a caustic personality, characterized by a vitriolic demeanor, the university should not intervene with Coulter’s scheduled appearance.

In fact, for Jackaway her visit gives us a chance to assess and examine ourselves.

“That is the true test of you belief in free speech, whether you are willing to defend the rights of those you hate to say things you detest,” Jackaway said of the struggle she sees emerging from this situation.

“I think the benefit is the dialogue that is beginning to emerge.”

“Maybe they have given us a gift, Jackaway said of the College Republicans and their decision to invite Coulter. “The outrage that follows is wonderful for our culture because then we have a conversation. We get to have a discussion about freedom of speech.”

Protests against Coulter’s appearance began with students, however, on the night of Nov. 8, before any of these reactions from faculty and Father McShane himself.

The group that formed against Coulter published their own Facebook page , set up an email address for student questions and comments and started a Twitter account, where they have appealed to such political pundits as Rachel Maddow and Bill Maher for coverage. They have also collected, at the time of publication, over   1,700 (updated: Nov. 9, 2:01pm) signatures on their petition at change.org to stop Coulter from making her scheduled appearance at the Rose Hill campus.

The group of students that have organized against Coulter’s appearance includes Chloe Foster-Jones, Marriette Dorobis, Dylan Katz, Faith Donnovan, Hanna Tadevich, Amalia Vavala, Lauren DeLucca, Jenny Park, Laura Tretter, Thomas Welch, Blaire Eberhart and Sarah Kneeshaw, all FCLC ’15.

“We realized that more than just sitting here and racking jokes like ‘oh, we want to egg her,’ we should actually do something about it and start a way for students to protest against this since we knew we weren’t the only ones upset about this,” Tadevich, a resident in 10F where the group has set up a makeshift headquarters, said.

The group has several issues with Coulter and the university’s approval of the event, including her personal beliefs and agenda, stating that she present nonfactual information as factual, supports racism, sexism and homophobia, and the group characterizes her as a hateful bigot.

Some of the commenters against this movement have accused the group of infringing on Coulter’s right to freedom of speech on the Facebook page.

The students have formulated these ideas into what they call a manifesto, which has just been posted to their Facebook page, “Stop Ann Coulter from speaking at Fordham.”

The manifesto reads:

I. Ann Coulter, as an American, is entitled to her opinion and the right to express it.

II. Ann Coulter’s inflammatory rhetoric upsets the Fordham Community because her fighting words directly attack our members.

III. Fordham University is a private institution, not a public forum, and the speakers it chooses reflect on the values of our Fordham community.

IV. Ann Coulter’s self-expression is not compatible with the values the Fordham community professes–particularly the Jesuit tenet of “Men and Women for and With Others”.

V. For these reasons, we feel that our tuition should not pay for Ann Coulter to speak at Fordham University or any Fordham Facility.

Coulter has had a history of this kind of student backlash. In 2010, organizers of a Coulter event at the University of Ottawa were forced to cancel the event in response to student rallys against the conservative figure.

The group plans to attend next Thursday’s town hall meeting at the Rose Hill campus, a weekly event held by the United Student Government at Rose Hill, to discuss the event and its future.

“I think it is great that there will be this bi-campus discussion happening and I hope that this results in a willingness to retract a decision to bring in a speaker. Obvisouly, that is a very hard thing for the university to do when they have already made that decision to bring her in. But I hope they are willing to at least listen and at least we get to hear what they have to say. I am excited about that dialogue but in the end I do hope she doesn’t speak,” Tadevich said.

The original event is scheduled for Nov. 29 from 6:00pm-9:30pm at the Rose Hill campus, according to the event’s OrgSync page has been cancelled: click here for more.

The weekly USG meeting for the Rose Hill campus will be held Thursday, Nov. 15 at 6:00pm in McGinley 237.

The group drafts their manifesto on the window. (Ian McKenna/The Observer)