Students call free speech 'violent' while disrupting lecture

  • A lecture on free speech at Western Washington University was delayed for about 20 minutes after student protesters commandeered the stage to decry free speech as "violent."
  • The protesters were heckled by audience members upset at being denied the chance to hear the lecture, with one telling the activists that "no one came here to hear you talk."

A group of students at Western Washington University recently protested a lecture on free speech, calling support for the First Amendment “harmful” and “dangerous.”

The lecture, titled “Censorship and Free Speech in the Age of Trump,” featured University of Pennsylvania professor Jonathan Zimmerman, a notable free speech advocate, who was slated to discuss how to “how college campuses should think about free speech on campus.”

"Friends, trauma is a medical term. You can’t just apply it to anything that offends you."   

[RELATED: Stanford stands down as students disrupt conservative speech]

According to The Western Front, seven WWU students charged the front of the room after Zimmerman was introduced, carrying signs that read “Advocating for the right to racist, sexist and transphobic speech is violent” and “Your safe space is violent.”

Zimmerman allowed the students to protest, and did not attempt to reclaim the floor throughout a disruption that lasted for roughly 20 minutes.

“We are here as students and community members to say that the ideas that Professor Zimmerman will share with you today are clearly harmful, dangerous, and inaccurate,” protester Emmaline Bigongiari declared, speaking on behalf of the group.

[RELATED: VIDEO: Students disrupt event on promoting ‘healthy’ dialogue]

Bigongiari clarified that the intention was “not to stop Professor Zimmerman from speaking,” but instead to take a moment to share their concerns.

She was interrupted by attendees upset that she was interfering with their ability to hear the speaker, some of whom pointed out the irony of protesting a lecture on free speech, which the protesters defended.

“He peddles the often repeated narrative that college students are overly sensitive special snowflakes, who cannot stand...ideas that are different than their own,” Bigongiari argued, to which the attendees countered that the protesters were proving Zimmerman correct.

“No one came here to hear you talk,” someone in the audience shouted.

[RELATED: Prof: Punishing protesters promotes ‘white supremacy’]

Eventually, the protesters finished and Zimmerman was allowed to present his lecture, during which he addressed the disruption in bemused terms.

“Friends, trauma is a medical term,” he noted. “You can’t just apply it to anything that offends you or anything that hurts you.”

Zimmerman told Campus Reform that it is important to note the the protesters did not ultimately prevent him from talking, but rather delivered their remarks and then vacated the room.

"The idea that campuses are hostile to free speech is exaggerated, but there are real threats," he opined, saying he is "trying to find the middle ground" on the issue.

"We shouldn't think that this is the majority on campus; it's just a small group of bullies," he added, noting that the audience at his lecture demonstrated that there is "a huge amount of support for free speech" on campus.

"We need to be vigilant without exaggerating," he concluded.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @KylePerisic

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Kyle Perisic
Kyle Perisic | Freelance Journalist/Editor

Kyle Perisic is a freelance journalist and editor. His work as a journalist covering tech, politics and education have been featured on The Drudge Report, The Daily Caller, Campus Reform and The Daily Signal. He graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

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