When a Discussion is Not a Discussion

Hailey Nuthals, Arts Editor

When VICE co-founder Gavin McInnes was pepper sprayed and jeered off the stage during his speech to the NYU College Republicans on Feb. 2, the club released a statement defending and explaining its choice to invite McInnes despite his history of making inflammatory statements. “The purpose of this event was to promote free speech and not to promote certain ideas,” the statement read. Similarly, during the violent protests against Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of California, Berkeley last week that caused $100,000 in damage, the defender of the alt-right also expressed his disappointment in his opponents’ reticence to respect free speech.

Frequently, groups who invite divisive speakers defend their actions by saying that while they may not agree with all of the speaker’s political views, they want to encourage conversations that lead both sides of the political spectrum to a point of greater understanding. This is all well and good — discussion between partisan groups is a noble pursuit and certainly a viable step toward reconciling our differences. But the issue presented is a two-fold problem.

One, there is a difference between inviting conservative speakers whose beliefs are contrary to a university or organization’s liberal reputation and inviting figures who have repeatedly been, say, banned from Twitter for inciting hate speech and abuse. In the former situation, the speaker’s beliefs may be controversial, but he or she has not actively sought harm — physical or otherwise — for another person. In the latter scenario, paying speakers to visit the campus may not be directly supporting their behavior, but it does give them a platform to espouse hateful doctrines.

Two, having a speaker come to lecture does not promote discussion — not in that moment, at least. It is giving them a platform to speak for the majority of the event, with limited — if any — time for questions following the primary address. Conversations inevitably follow the event in smaller, broken-off groups likely made up of friends whose beliefs are already compatible. It’s unlikely that many opinions will be challenged. Discussions, on the other hand, are democratic. They involve participation all throughout the event. Unlike the speaker-on-the-podium structure that lectures have, discussions encourage collective involvement.


It’s wonderful that the NYU College Republicans and conservative groups nationwide say they are trying to promote discussion. It’s doubtful, however, between different groups, if it’s their honest intentions at all. Inviting divisive guests baits the speaker’s opponents. McInnes’ pepper spray incident and the ensuing chaos that followed were both to be expected that night.

Email Hailey Nuthals at [email protected]



  1. What a horrible piece by a close-minded and spineless news outlet. Your paper has done nothing but defend blatant libel, intolerance, and atrocious acts of violence. Most of your ‘protestors’ have probably never read a piece by Mcinnes. His different opinions are NOT hateful. Rather than apologize for unbelievably immature and intolerant actions, you continue to defend yourselves and play the victim card. You say it’s hate speech, but nobody knows what that is. You’ll probably label this comment as ‘hate speech’ also. Be adults.

  2. It’s funny that this comment box says “Speak your mind” when obviously your “newspaper” is against it. Words are just noises and a combination of noises that can make people embarrass themselves like the students of NYU, you know nothing of the art of being a provocateur and you need a lesson in respect. But I would expect nothing less than the arrogant children who write for the NYU newspaper. Relax and be mindful, learn how to discuss and think for yourself, something college professors have obviously forgotten to teach.

  3. I agree with your point, which isn’t — as the commenters suggested — an attack aimed at these speakers themselves but rather the defense that knowingly hosting controversial and inflammatory speakers promotes free speech or some kind of political dialog.

    I had a discussion about this recently with a friend, and to me, hosting someone like Milo Yiannopoulos isn’t something that does anything to promote any intellectual idea, not even a bad one.

    While I think Milo’s words are benevolent in the sense that words, they’re also devoid of substance. Calling a professor a “Fat F***ot” isn’t a political stance, and while it is free speech that’s protected by the constitution, I see absolutely no reason why any educational institution —public or otherwise — should feel pressured to host that type low-brow, attempted humor. Because that’s basically what Milo is, — a bad comedian, an offensive Youtuber and… that’s pretty much it.

    Now, the trouble that universities like Berkley and NYU can run into is that they’ve historically invited other extremely-inflammatory, substanceless speakers with different political ideologies speak on campus — all based on the premise that, even though their ideas were controversial, we were all better served by making space for them.

    Personally, I think unfunny racist rants and exaggerated slam poems about police brutality are equally useless to a person’s pursuit of higher education and are both essentially weird forms politically-themed entertainment. That type of thing is great if it’s billed as such, but neither enriches the student body in part or as a whole.

    So, I think what all universities need to do is more clearly define why any speaker, regardless of his or her message, would be invited to speak on campus in the first place.

  4. I think NYU should only allow alt-left speakers. NYU should not allow any middle-of-the-road democrats like Chuck Schumer, Madeline Albright or Hillary Clinton to speak there; only uber-liberal speakers should be allowed.

    I also think all future professorships should be rewarded to equally close-minded leftists who teach us that white Christians are the worst creatures on Earth.

    Emily, I like how you are just as narrow-minded as I am.


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