Liberal Studies Dean Julie Mostov hosted a town hall on Thursday to discuss with LS students the university’s handling of Milo Yiannopoulos’ postponed appearance after LS professor Michael Rectenwald invited the far-right provocateur to speak to his class of 14 students on Halloween.
In the public town hall, Associate Vice President for Global Student Engagement and Inclusive Leadership at NYU Monroe France moderated an open discussion between students, Mostov and administrators.
The discussion centered on the university’s stance on the limits of free speech in academic spaces. When asked if there is a difference between free speech and hate speech, Mostov expressed that such a distinction does not exist.
“There is no line,” Mostov said. “It’s a very gray and very treacherous sort of space.”
As the event ended, students left feeling as if Mostov and the administration did not directly answer their questions or concerns. LS sophomore Sophia Santaniello saw the town hall as an attempt for LS and the administration to defend themselves for not canceling the event, which many students viewed as hate speech.
“I feel like everyone can kind of agree that it was an expected response,” Santaniello said. “It’s along the lines of this saving face routine NYU has created where they proclaim these values. And then these events happen, and then they say, ‘Oh, we don’t have control.’”
Mostov attributed her beliefs to her experiences in the former Yugoslavia and the struggles she saw in attaining the right to free speech in the Yugoslav Wars that lasted from 1991 to 2001.
“My scholarship centers on former Yugoslavia, and I saw how hate speech became more than hate speech and became fighting wars and then became an attempted annihilation of another people,” Mostov said. “At the same time, as I mentioned, this had been complicated for those peoples who were fighting for freedom of speech. We have to live with complexity, contradiction and the very messy and very dangerous spaces.”
Nonetheless, students remain angered by the fact that the university did not cancel Yiannopoulos’ appearance once news broke of Rectenwald’s invitation. GLS sophomore Kathleen Massey was frustrated that Mayor Bill de Blasio had to intervene in order for the university to postpone Yiannopoulos’ appearance.
“It’s a complete failure of the dean, the LS administration, the president’s office and all of the NYU administration that he was allowed to come in the first place,” Massey said. “It is embarrassing that Bill de Blasio had to be the person to shut this down.”
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