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Milo Yiannopoulos should not speak at the University of York unchallenged

Image credit: Breitbart, http://cdn.breitbart.com/mediaserver/Breitbart/Breitbart-London/2014/12/14/Screen-Shot-2014-12-14-at-232933png.png

Recently, as I’m sure you’re aware, there has been a scandal that has exploded to national proportions regarding International Men’s Day, a day intended to bring attention to men’s issues in society as listed in this statement by the university. As soon as it was introduced, it received much deserved criticism and backlash, so the university decided to cancel the event releasing a statement explaining why. 

Now, personally, I think that we should have a men’s day at the university, for the reasons cited in the statement: the biggest killer of men under fifty years of age is suicide and there are still many roles that are expected of men. Men are meant to be the breadwinners, men are meant to be able to deal with their emotions on their own, and so on. If you go through the original statement however, there is only a single throwaway sentence about it, with the rest being about financial and academic “disadvantages” that men face.

This then exploded into a scandal where lots of different national news outlets ran the story, and events seemed to get quite out of hand. The debate fumbled on, out of control, no one person being able to get a grasp on it and the university responding in a very non-apologetic way; Men’s Rights Activists coming to the fore and being disgusted by the university’s actions in retracting their statement, feminists reacting with jubilation that the event had been cancelled; whilst others like me who sat in the middle believing we should have an International Men’s Day but in a different way to the university’s proposition. The 200 or so people who signed the open letter wanting the day to be scrapped now face a counter-letter wanting the day to be reinstated, signed by over 3000.

Then something happened. At some point on the 18th November 2015 (at the time of writing, the details are unclear) a male student at the university committed suicide, sustaining many self-inflicted injuries, and later passing away in hospital.

This is a tragedy. The student passed away for reasons of which we are not aware, but on which we can only speculate. Yet, Breitbart, in its article linked above (and here), wishes to make a clear (but not explicitly stated) correlation between the university’s cancellation of International Men’s Day and the death of a male student.

The article was written by one Mr. Milo Yiannopoulos, an individual with whom the university’s UKIP Society are currently in talks, to invite him to the campus to give a talk about “militant feminism”. By no means is feminism a sacrosanct topic that is immune from debate, but Mr Yiannopoulos is a very problematic individual to be inviting to the university.

First coming to the fore as part of the GamerGate debate, an issue that appeared at first to be about ethics in journalism, but quickly devolved into feminist witch hunting in the video games industry, Mr Yiannopoulos quickly seized upon the opportunity (with no interest in the industry prior to the scandal) to criticise feminists. One such figure, Anita Saarkesian, who has been making a series of videos on YouTube about the problematic roles of women in video games, is one such figure of derision, even after she suffered much abuse from many of his supporters. He has constantly used his position as a journalist to stir up much hate towards feminists, labelling them as “ugly” simply because of what they believe in.

The list goes on: here he can be found criticising those who believe that consent needs to be taught to be better understood; here he criticises Zoe Quinn for promoting her free game that helps people understand depression in the wake of Robin Williams’ suicide whilst here he is using the recent death of a student at the university to further his personal political agenda. Again, here he is, revelling in the anguish of anti-Gamergate journalist Veerender Jubbal, as a picture of him was crudely PhotoShopped to make him look like a suicide bomber and was picked up by international media in the wake of the Paris bombings.

Furthermore, here he is posting an image of our LGBTQ officer to his followers. (Mr. Yiannopoulos goes by the name of ‘Nero’ on Twitter.)

A simple browse of the replies shows exactly why he chose to do it:

nero replies
Image credit: Twitter, @Nero, screenshot taken by Ben Pearson

Anyone who disagrees with Mr. Yiannopoulos comes under a barrage of hatred, as an anonymous victim chose to tell me “Any well-intentioned attempt to broaden the discussion over mental health and gender has been vastly overshadowed by the abuse feminists such as myself are receiving online.” Mr. Yiannopoulos is not someone with whom I want the University of York to be associated in any way. He is someone who encourages the harassment of individuals who hold the views that the student union stands behind: promotion of equal rights; increased awareness of consent; and the embracing of Syrian refugees in York (oh yeah, he opposes that too).

Unfortunately this puts YUSU in a very unfortunate position: by inviting the man to the university to give a talk, you’re allowing him to encourage a view that you oppose; but by no-platforming him, it provides the UKIP Society with ammunition to argue that the student union wants to censor their political ideas, an issue with which I’m sure YUSU is familiar.

Although I can’t stop him from coming to York and speaking, I think it’s best that YUSU brings him to the university and force him to defend the crude postulations he continues to make. Invite someone else to debate him or possibly even to debate our Woman’s Officer or LGBTQ officers as well. Whatever happens, he cannot come to this university and have his views spouted uncontested given how he embodies so many values that the student union opposes.

Failing this, well, I guess we can all get together and tell him to “get in the sea”.