UC students: free speech shouldn't apply to 'Trump surrogates'

The students claim that "a firm commitment to free expression" does not require the school to host Lewandowski, but in fact obliges the community to reject him.

Students at the University of Chicago are asking the school to disinvite Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, saying that allowing him to speak “normalizes bigotry.”

Students at the University of Chicago are asking the school to disinvite Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, saying that allowing him to speak “normalizes bigotry.”

Lewandowski is scheduled to visit the school Wednesday for a students-only, off-the-record event on behalf of the school’s Institute of Politics (IOP), which is hosting a series of discussions about America in the era of Trump, but a coalition of student groups sent a letter to IOP Director David Axelrod and IOP Fellow Robert Costas Sunday asking them to disinvite Lewandowski and avoid inviting any other “Trump surrogates” because of their alleged ties to white supremacist groups and supposed incitement of violence.

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“[Inviting Lewandoski] sends a positive signal to white supremacists that they are welcome here,” the student groups assert. “This exposes the most vulnerable members of our community to even greater risk.”

The letter also criticizes IOP’s recent hosting of Sean Spicer, the current Press Secretary for President Trump.

U of C Resists, Graduate Students United, Students Working Against Prisons, and UChicago Socialists, the four groups that jointly penned the letter, claim that a commitment to free speech does not apply to people associated with Trump.

“Nothing about a firm commitment to free expression obliges us [to] open our doors to (much less to provide platforms for) those who incite hatred and violence against refugees, immigrants, and minorities—that is, against our students, teachers, co-workers, and neighbors,” they declare. “Far from being obliged to welcome Lewandowski, we are obliged not to.”

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In addition to sending the letter, U of C Resists is planning a “Bigotry is not Normal” protest to coincide with the Lewandowski event, and had secured 230 RSVPs from interested students on Facebook.

“We invite all of Chicago to take a stand against this normalization of bigotry, please share widely,” the group states in the event description.

Aron Milberg, a PhD student at the University of Chicago, shared a flyer for the protest that insists students must shut down “fascism” on their campus.

“UChicago under attack!” the flyer reads. “What do we do? SHUT IT DOWN.”

While the group doesn’t specify the tactics it will use to shut down the speech, the flyer ominously states that “This isn’t a dialogue[;] it’s a war.”

Steve Edwards, Executive Director of the IOP, told The Chicagoist that while he respects the right of people to protest the event, he feels it is important for IOP to invite guests who can help the U of C community understand the current administration.

“With any administration, we would be remiss if we did not invite guests who could provide insights into the administration’s thinking and approach to governing,” Edwards opined.

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“In Wednesday’s seminar, students will have the opportunity to question Corey Lewandowksi on these and many other topics related to the Trump campaign, he continued, noting that “people are free to contest, criticize, and protest views expressed on campus so long as they do not obstruct or interfere with the freedom of others to express their views."

Campus Reform reached out to U of C Resists for comment but did not receive a response by press time.


U of C Resists told Campus Reform that they did not actually want the school to disinvite Lewandowski, but rather, they "encouraged [the person who invited him] to reconsider and rescind the invitation." 

"Given that the talk will proceed, we have called for a protest not to prevent the event from happening, but rather in order to express our disapproval with Lewandowski, to provide a broader space for critiquing his positions, rhetoric, and actions, and to provide support for the people he and his campaign have attacked," the group explained. 

The group also claimed that it did not create or approve the flyer declaring that "it's a war."

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @amber_athey