Students Plan Protest Against Dennis Prager Talk on UW Campus
A group of University of Wyoming students are planning a protest of a conservative speaker scheduled to speak today on the UW campus.
Dennis Prager, a conservative radio host and speaker and founder of online media company Prager University will speak tonight on campus at 6 p.m. in the Education Auditorium. The talk, titled “Why Socialism Makes People Selfish,” is hosted by UW’s Turning Point USA chapter and PragerU, according to the event’s Facebook page.
Jessica Leach, UW student and president of UW's Turning Point chapter, said that Turning Point decided to bring Prager to campus to speak on the topic of socialism because one of the group's focus areas is economics, as well as limited government issues.
"We decided as a chapter to bring Dennis Prager because we believed that he would bring valuable insight to our university on the topic of socialism," Leach said. "PragerU is Dennis Prager's nonprofit, they make videos regarding a wide array of topics. We decided that we would have Dennis come speak on socialism because Turning Point USA focuses on issues of economics and issues of limited governance.We thought he would offer valuable insight to our school on the topic of socialism."
The speech will be followed by a Q & A session.
In response, a number of students have planned a protest, called "Protest Against Bigot Dennis Prager," to begin before the talk. The protest is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. outside the Education Building. The Facebook event page for the protests says the Associated Students of UW awarded money to Turning Point USA to bring Prager to campus.
“Fellow UWyo students and concerned community members: our ‘representatives’ on the Associated Students of the University of Wyoming RSO Funding Board and Senate recently awarded several thousands of dollars to Turning Point USA’s UW Chapter to bring a racist, homophobic, xenophobic, red-baiting, anti-academic, climate denying, rape apologist to campus,” the event page says.
The post invites community members to consider joining the peaceful protest and offers a link for those who cannot attend to express their thoughts and concerns to ASUW.
Leach says while she supports the protester's First Amendment rights, she hopes they attend Prager's speech.
"I believe the First Amendment is a sacred thing and so I support their right to protest peacefully," Leach said." However, I encourage the protesters, after they are finished protesting, to come into the event and see what Dennis Prager has to say. We have provided an opportunity for members of the audience to ask Dennis questions and we hope that they come, listen to Dennis and ask them a couple questions if they feel the need to."
Austin Morgan, a UW senior and one of the organizers of the protest, said there were a number of reasons the students felt a protest against Prager’s speech was warranted including Prager’s opinions on rape on college campuses, HIV/AIDS and institutionalized racism, sex in marriage and Islam.
“He’s a charlatan, a magician and his most brutal magic trick is obscuring, mystifying and obfuscating the systems of inequality that are at work in our status quo,” Morgan said. “And by doing that, he treats them, or constructs them as problems that don’t deserve conscious attention and don’t deserve changes in policy or a dedication of resources. In so far as he does this, he is anti-equality in this way; anti-inclusivity.”
One example Morgan gave was Prager’s stance that HIV/AIDS is primarily a problem for gay men and those who take drugs intravenously. Morgan says statistics from the CDC show that heterosexual people are the fastest growing risk factor in this situation and may soon eclipse gay men.
“There isn’t data to support what he’s saying,” Morgan said.
Morgan said that Prager is also racist.
“Certainly he’s a racist. When I say a racist, I mean that he obscures the systems of domination, the underlying structural conditions, that prevent us from having an equal society,” Morgan said. “Take for instance the carceral state, which targets predominantly the poor, people with mental health conditions, individuals of color, that’s just one example of such an institutionalized form of racism.”
Morgan said the moral thrust of the protest can be summarized using a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.
“The arc of moral history is long, the fight to preserve it is hard, but the arc bends toward justice and equality, there will be hope at the end of the day,” Morgan said. “Our statement to Dennis Prager is: bend with it, or break.”
Morgan said the protesters also had a financial reason for objecting to Prager coming to UW. Morgan said Prager is being paid between $10,000 and $12,000 to come to the university.
“The University of Wyoming and Wyoming more generally is in a fiscal crisis. At what point do we draw the line and say, you know, should we spend our resources on things like the veteran’s center, how about the non-trad center [non-traditional students center], how about the LGBTQ resource center, how about the mental health services on campus, how about student health service on campus?” Morgan said. “Can we put this money to a better cause other than bringing this, frankly, this bigot to speak at the University of Wyoming? It’s unconscionable.”
Morgan said that as far as protesting being planned inside as well as outside, it was not clear.
“The outside - inside aspect of the protest is not certain,” Morgan said. Morgan said police officers will be present at the protest.
Leach said the university has been very supportive of Turning Point's efforts to bring Prager to campus.
"The University of Wyoming administration is an ally to the First Amendment and freedom of speech," Leach said. " We have had a really great time working with the administration and we are just really excited to have a speaker of this profile at the university."