Gavin McInnes’s high profile appearance at the NYU College Republicans’ Feb. 2 meeting reaped unexpected side effects — 11 arrests, protestors and abbreviated speech aside. After his punctuated visit, the club has surged in popularity.
Immediately following McInnes’s speech at the Kimmel Center for University Life, many members of the NYU community criticized both McInnes’s views and NYUCR for inviting him to NYU. But despite the criticism, an influx of people want to join the club.
Tisch senior and NYUCR treasurer Jack Kapulsky noted this increased interest in NYUCR since McInnes’s event, and he said that news outlets covered the event contributed to its visibility and subsequent popularity.
“Instead of a hundred people hearing what we have to say, millions across the nation now know about Gavin McInnes and about censorship of campuses,” Kapulsky said. “The event obviously got a huge turnout. We got a lot of letters and people following our Facebook saying ‘I didn’t know there’s an NYU College Republicans — where can I join?’”
While diversely-opinionated people filled the room, Kapulsky said he thought the protesters’ presence had the opposite effect from what they had intended.
“The protesters and disrupters need to get it through their heads that if they want to subdue our message, they should let us have our event in peace,” Kapulsky said. “If they have issues with our ideology, or things that our speaker has said, they should participate in our dialogue and come armed with questions to ask.”
Kapulsky also said that he does not believe the protesters had a clear message to deliver to McInnes during the speech and that they did not have any coherent claims when McInnes offered them the microphone.
Gallatin freshman Gabriel Deen, a new member of NYUCR, said that a base of people with broader political views could lead to increased political discourse and that people on campus should be exposed to different and opposing political views. Deen said he was initially drawn to the club as an alternative to what he believes is the liberal status quo of NYU.
“[The College Republicans] are really trying to focus on free speech,” Deen said. “I think that is probably the focus of most of the people who joined after the McInnes event.”
CAS junior and NYU College Libertarians Chairman Weston Richey attended a debate on Feb. 7 following the McInnes event and he said that it is important to have a forum to discuss partisan issues. But at events similar to the debate — where various political groups attend — productive discussions might not proceed as well as they could due to a lack of respect for differing opinions.
“I think that, although having a forum for discussing these issues is very important, and I was very glad to work with the Politics Society and other clubs to host the event, there was a concerning lack of decency and respect in approaching discourse on the part of some who attended,” Richey said. “I think there were some who did not respect the very personal nature of the topic being discussed, and that this led to an environment that is far from conducive to healthy discussion.”
Richey also said that although he personally supports free speech, he does not believe that McInnes’s speech was the best way to promote a free flow of ideas. He believes that McInnes’s hateful views prevented thoughtful discussion from occurring.
“While I have the charity to believe that College Republicans aimed to promote and explore free speech, it was a grave mistake to invite McInnes,” Richey said. “He is, in no uncertain terms, a bully. Even if we were to set aside the content of his views — which to me seem plainly racist, homophobic and transphobic — I do not find him to be a person who is interested in the respectful exchange of ideas.”
Richey also said that he believes that McInnes’s mean-spirited and uncivil demeanor does not harmonize with an academic approach to discourse that allows people with different views to explore issues.
Kapulsky said he hopes that people who choose to join NYUCR feel as though they can share their views fully. He also said that NYUCR can serve as a place for free expression for these new members.
“I want [new members] to not be ashamed — like they can express who they are fully,” Kapulsky said. “We want people to feel like they have a safe space, to use that term, for free speech.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Feb. 13 print edition. Email Tom Miritello at [email protected]