The Stanford Review decided against sponsoring a speech by Milo Yiannopoulus
As you may know from the Fountain Hopper, a fellow Stanford student wants to bring Milo Yiannopoulus, a notorious spokesperson for the alt-right, to campus. This student approached the Review to ask that it act as a group sponsor for the event where Milo would speak about Women in Tech; individuals cannot invite guest speakers, only groups can. We ultimately chose not to invite Milo. Nonetheless, while this decision may seem obvious to some, I believe there is value in explaining the rationale behind the Reviews’s decision as well as why sponsorship was worth considering.
Most Stanford students that know anything about Milo neither support nor agree with his opinions. Our Managing Editor, Elliot Kaufman, has already explained why. However, inviting Milo to speak is more than just the act; it is about the right to speak at a private university.
Bringing in Milo would have, without a doubt, caused a buzz. We would have been able to observe whether or not the university acted to restrict certain viewpoints, to see the spectrum of reactions, and to spark a conversation about the merit (or lack thereof) of his arguments.
Other universities have attempted to bar Milo from speaking. The University of Alabama required a security fee of approximately $7,000. While speaking at DePaul University in May, Milo was hit in the face by protestors and the event had to end because security could not restore order. He was subsequently banned from the school, and a year later he was banned from a free speech event from the University of Manchester Student Union. While it is fair that universities prioritize security and safety, this is a dangerous trend of silencing, and by bringing him, we would either be able to see if Stanford was following in that trend of muting contrarian opinions or if it was capable of rising above it to support freedom of thought among their students and student groups.
However, Milo’s tendency to be offensive and his strong affiliation with the alt-right made us wary of giving him a platform to just speak at many of us, so we considered the option of holding a debate. In an ideal world, The Review would have been able to bring in an excellent debate candidate to tackle the topic of Women in Tech, and there could have been a robust discussion that would have addressed a topic pertinent to Stanford students. With two well-matched opponents, the debate could better expose nuances of both speakers and provide students with a medium that truly allowed them to contemplate their arguments. In reality, The Review would have been immediately associated with Milo and villainized as endorsing and encouraging his less savory viewpoints and opinions. That perception would be wrong, but it would have undermined the mission of this volume of the Review: to foster spirited intellectual discussions that engage as many members of the Stanford community as possible.
A discussion between the ideal and the practical, the principle and the actual, was extremely important in this case scenario. As Editor-in-Chief, I reasonably could have made a decision without talking about it to anyone, but it would have been an emotional decision: either I disagreed with him and so wouldn’t bring him in to speak, or I believed that the student who approached the Review deserved a platform to bring new ideas to campus and so would have sponsored the event. Those two options lack nuance, consideration, and the opportunity for strong pushback. A decision without dialogue would have neglected the deliberation necessary to make the right decision. Opening up the question of whether or not to sponsor Milo fostered healthy debate, discussion, and deliberation within our organization.
To be completely honest, my first instinct was to bring him in. I had never heard of him, he seemed to represent free speech, and it seemed like the worst case scenario was that I disagree with what he said. Two members of the staff immediately reached out with concern, and it became clear that this was a decision that would have ramifications I hadn’t considered. I stand by our decision to not sponsor his visit to Stanford, but I have to credit those who challenged me to think deeply, critically, and analytically about the situation to ensure that I understood the costs – of both inviting him and not inviting him, to the Stanford community and to the staff members – as well as the nuances of each decision.
I fundamentally believe that it is important to be aware of what loud, contrarian voices are saying. Outspoken individuals tend to find their ideas rejected without thought. At Stanford, however, ideas with which you disagree deserved to be challenged and proved incorrect for everyone to see. They can meaningfully force you to question your assumptions and think critically and carefully about what you consider to be true. As a publication, it is our mission to bring to light underrepresented thoughts.
However, we believe in rooting contrarian beliefs in research, empathy, and intellect. Bringing in Milo would alienate many students from our publication: both ones that agree with most of the articles, and ones that do not. The Review does not want to preach to an echo chamber of those in agreement, and after an event with Milo, that is the only readership we would have. While we value each and every one of our readers, and support from those that believe in our mission is imperative to success, we also want to engage in discussion about topics that matter to us from people with a variety of different opinions. We want silenced voices to feel comfortable speaking up to the Review. As a staff, we believe that sponsoring Milo Yiannopoulus to campus would be detrimental to our goal.