To begin, I advertise a content warning: this letter discusses transphobia and anti-Semitism.
By inviting conservative media personality Ben Shapiro to speak, Northwestern University College Republicans are acting in an extraordinarily irresponsible manner contrary to the well-being of trans students and campus free speech. Mr. Shapiro’s promotion of the misleading message that transgender identity is “not supported by science” is actually an attempt at silencing discussion on issues. This silencing, most egregiously, actively harms trans students.
Mr. Shapiro often argues against the validity of trans identity by saying that one cannot argue with “basic biology” concerning gender at birth. As has been argued in scientific literature, neither gender nor sex can be appropriately described using fixed binary terminologies. Thus, Mr. Shapiro appears to be factually incorrect in his insistence on the “fact” of binary gender.
On the other hand, Mr. Shapiro’s language of facts is merely a refusal to have a free debate on an issue. His argument consists primarily of him parroting the misleading statement, “the idea that sex or gender is malleable is not true.” In response to challenges to his position, Mr. Shapiro only says that “facts don’t care about your feelings” and ends there. He does not attempt to engage with or critically examine either the challenger’s position, or his own “facts.” Thus, when Mr. Shapiro argues for “facts,” he is not arguing for statements which are universally true, but that no debate can be had on a subject. As he argues for the “facts” of biological gender, he means to say that gender identity cannot and should not be debated, and those who do so are literally abnormal. It is therefore plain to see that Mr. Shapiro actually advocates against free speech, ironically undermining his professed attachment to it.
Most egregiously, this silencing effect actively harms trans people, as it prevents any discussion that does not focus on treating trans people for what Shapiro describes as a “mental illness.” This focus is taken up by some conservative lawmakers as the need to respond to a perceived society-wide threat of abnormality, resulting in the curtailment of trans individuals’ civil and social rights, for example in the anti-trans “bathroom bills” of North Carolina.
In my opinion, College Republicans seem to at least tolerate Mr. Shapiro’s attacks on free speech and trans students’ identities. Additionally, as a New York Times article highlighted, many conservative speakers, potentially even including Shapiro in this instance, aren’t actually funded by student groups themselves, but by the Young America’s Foundation, which similarly opposes free speech. Despite Mr. Shapiro’s erroneous “facts,” I believe College Republicans could simply use any student backlash as a potential opportunity to frame themselves as victims.
In concluding, I would also like to iterate that the anti-Semitic abuse with which Mr. Shapiro has been lately targeted is also morally reprehensible, and I stand with him in opposing it. However, it is irresponsible and disgusting that College Republicans would essentially attack the campus trans community by inviting him to speak.
Gustavo Eduardo Berrizbeitia, Class of 2017
Depts. of Political Science, Philosophy
Fellow, Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship
President, Undergraduate Critical Theory Workshop