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YAF Erik Prince Event FAQ

March 29, 2019

The college has compiled answers to several questions in response to the recent YAF-hosted Erik Prince event. This FAQ will be updated as needed.

Last update: March 29, 3 p.m.

Why was Erik Prince allowed to come to campus in the first place?

The event was hosted and funded by the Young Americans for Freedom student group on campus and the national YAF office. That group is recognized by the student government, receives funding from the student government, and its members carefully followed all the procedures for inviting a speaker. For many years, the college has given its deep trust to students in their choice of speakers. Our policy states that:

“Free inquiry and free expression are essential attributes of the community of scholars. Therefore, recognized student groups are allowed to invite and to present any speaker, performer, or dramatic or musical group of their own choosing, provided they follow regular procedures for scheduling facilities and placing the event on the calendar.” (p.87 Student Handbook).

Despite strong opposition from many students, alumni and others to Erik Prince's visit, the policy cited above is a policy grounded in free inquiry. There are many speakers who have been brought to campus, including this one, whose positions many profoundly disagree with, but who come nonetheless. We are confident that if President Bierman or any other administrator proposed that they be the gatekeepers for who came to campus to speak and who did not, that proposal would receive about zero votes, and rightly so.

How did faculty and staff prepare students to respond to the Prince visit?

The Dean of Students and other staff and faculty members spoke extensively with students about the Prince visit. They encouraged students to research the speaker’s background, write op-ed pieces and other informative materials, and prepare well-informed and challenging questions. They also spoke with students about options for non-disruptive behavior during the event. The suggestions included creating posters, sitting, standing, and/or walking through the room silently, planning and participating in alternative programming, and/or staying away from a presentation to reduce audience size.

Why didn’t you let Prince speak?

Protestors’ disruptions escalated and put our students’ safety at risk. So, the event was cancelled.

The first official statement said, “The college will begin an investigation immediately.” What is this investigation about?

At this point, the college is not investigating any specific individuals. We are looking into the event and gathering facts. As we clarify the situation, we’ll evaluate policy violations and determine the best course of action consistent with our policies and procedures.

If the protest was peaceful, why are you investigating anything at all?

The protest was not peaceful. The account shared by Security Officer Bruce Heine and Dean of Students Cecil Youngblood details the incident.

If the protest wasn’t peaceful, why weren’t protesters removed?

In the interest of our students’ safety and well-being, it had been agreed upon in advance that neither representatives from the college nor the police would physically restrain or physically remove any protesters at the event, except under extreme circumstances.

If the college believes in protesting as a form of activism, why are you condemning students for doing that same thing?

The college is not condemning student protest—we fully support it and our policies reflect this: 

Students are encouraged to express their opinions and beliefs on wide ranging subjects and issues in an orderly fashion, which does not disrupt the operations and essential functions of the college, endanger the safety of individuals, or destroy property.

The college will make every attempt to deal with disruptive demonstrations first with reason and persuasion. Civil authorities will be called only after reason and persuasion fail, and the appropriate college officials deem such action is necessary to protect the safety of individuals, campus property, and the legitimate operations of the college. Members of the college community must take responsibility for their expressions, both public and private. No person(s) has the right to disrupt another’s speech or presentation. (pp.45-46 Student Handbook)

We stand by this. We condemn excessive disruptions, especially those that prevent any speaker from speaking. Indeed, other groups and individuals protested in,“ways that are completely consistent with our principles,” as President Bierman has stated.

How can you market the college as an anti-racist institution in light of these things?

Beloit College does not claim to be an anti-racist institution—it aspires to be one. Our current academic priorities identify this work:

“Focusing on anti-racism, equity, and inclusive living and learning as central to the Liberal Arts in Practice and integral to delivering our mission to all Beloit students.”

It is difficult, messy, uncomfortable, challenging, emotional, demanding, and all manner of hard work—and we love it. Beloit College aspires to be an anti-racist institution, and the multitude of views and opinions we see and hear around the free inquiry debate lie at the center of the dialogue that will, we hope, push us closer toward this realization. What better place for this work than at Beloit College?

Our student statement of culture ends with the line: “We accept and honor these common values and goals by celebrating the richness and diversity present in every person, humbled by the knowledge that this community is as gifted, flawed, and human as we are.”

Are you going to change anything in your policies?

We typically review policies every year in collaboration with students, faculty and staff; we expect policies mentioned above to be revisited.