Photo courtesy of Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Allen West: Retired U.S. Army Lt. Colonel and controversial SLU guest speaker.
Last week, conservative pundit Allen West looked to start a feud with Saint Louis University, calling students “little cupcakes” in search of “a safe space” and also blasting a Muslim student organization.
Now students at the Jesuit university are fighting back — with baked goods. Their protest against West’s speech on campus today will double as a cupcake sale.
West, a Fox News commentator and former Republican Congressman, was invited to speak at SLU by the university’s Young Republicans and the conservative organization Young America’s Foundation.
SLU student Claire Cunningham, a member of the organization Leadership for Social Change, says that would have been fine, if not for what happened next.
“Our biggest concern is not necessarily that a conservative speaker is coming, because we believe in free speech,” she says.
And despite West putting the student body on blast, the fracas didn't start with student groups. By West's own telling, the trouble started when Young America’s Foundation announced that an unnamed university administrator had told SLU Young Republicans they couldn’t use the phrase “radical Islam” in flyers advertising the event.
West heard about the admonition, and wasn’t about to take it sitting down.
“It appears there are those who define free speech as the speech they deem acceptable,” West wrote in a post on allenbwest.com headlined “Folks, I’ve just been CENSORED
." “If you attempt to speak on issues to which the liberal progressive socialist left does not consent, you should be censored. Or at a minimum, the little cupcakes ask for a 'safe space' where they don’t have to hear opposing views — and here we were under the impression that institutions of higher learning were supposed to be places to encourage the free exchange of ideas.”
He also called out the Muslim Student Association, suggesting it was a “stealth jihad radical Islamic campus organization.”
“If this is just a case of ill-conceived political correctness, we’ll rectify that. But, if this is a case of the influence of stealth jihad radical Islamic campus organizations such as the Muslim Student Association, an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood, then you will be exposed. And I recommend to the President of St. Louis University, you do not want it known that a radical Islamic organization is dictating speakers on your campus — that is not the type of PR you really want,” West wrote.
Some students were livid.
“Our administrator made a request for him to tailor his speech to our community, and in response he made a lot of hateful statements about our students,” Cunningham says.
The phrase “little cupcakes” stuck out, and, Cunningham says, “We all decided to embrace it.”
A coalition of SLU students decided that the best way to object to West’s visit would be to hold a peaceful protest outside the building where he’s speaking — a protest devoted to selling cupcakes, the proceeds from which will go to a charity benefitting Syrian refugees.
Cunningham says SLU students want to show West that his vitriol is “unbelievably out of line” and the community values the contributions of its Muslim Student Association.
It isn’t just students who’ve now condemned West’s post. In an email sent to students, faculty, staff and alumni of SLU on Wednesday afternoon, president Fred Pestello says that West’s remarks conflict with the Catholic values of the university.
“In recent days, many others and I have worked to hear and understand the pain our Muslim students and allies are feeling,” Pestello says. “Let me take this opportunity to remind these — and all — SLU students that I am in solidarity with you.”
However, Pestello says that in the interest of academic freedom, the university will go ahead with West’s speech.
“As an institution of higher learning, SLU must resist the urge to suppress speech and instead expose all ideas and positions, provocative or pedestrian, to critical scrutiny. The fundamental purpose of a community of scholars and learners is to engage respectfully rather than repress,” Pestello says.
West had followed up his blog post by demanding that the SLU administrator responsible for the decision contact him directly, but has yet to report any contact. Cunningham says that the identity of the administrator who made the decision isn’t public knowledge.
SLU’s communications office did not respond to our messages seeking comment.
You can stop by SLU’s Center for Global Citizenship from 4 to 10 p.m. to pick up one of the students’ sweets — or, if you’re in the mood for something a little more sour, come at 7 p.m. to hear Allen West speak.
A group of law students is now questioning why West is allowed to speak on campus, when another controversial speaker was not. See the latest here