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Davis, California

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Students need to feel safe to protest on campus

The university must do better to protect student protestors and condemn the presence of violent extremists


On Oct. 25, UC Davis’s chapter of Turning Point USA, a right-wing nonprofit organization active on college campuses across the country, planned to host an event at the UC Davis Conference Center featuring speaker Stephen Davis. The event was canceled before Davis began his remarks, however, when a protest and counter-protest taking place outside became violent. 

Davis has written articles and given speeches for Turning Point USA perpetuating dangerous false narratives about multiple historically-marginalized groups. In his recent posts on Turning Point USA’s site, he has described systemic racism as “left in the past,” written a blog post titled “LGBT nation is coming for our children” that refers to sites like the It Gets Better Project as “corrupting” and denied trans people’s identities.

Students and members of UC Davis Cops Off Campus, an unregistered advocacy group, gathered outside of the event to express their outrage in response to Davis’s words and presence on campus. Counter-protestors, some of whom were identifiable as members of the Proud Boys, were also present, and some are reported to have pepper sprayed and physically assaulted students.

In a statement released on Oct. 25, UC Davis affirmed the right of students to invite speakers to campus, as well as the right of others to protest. The Editorial Board understands why the university chose to allow the event to take place and that it must uphold First Amendment rights as a public institution. That said, we stand against the misinformation that Stephen Davis spreads, and we encourage students to protest those who choose to share this kind of messaging.

Further, we believe that it is necessary for the university to make protesting on campus safe for students, and at this event, they did not do that. While the protest organized by Cops Off Campus was not entirely peaceful as some destruction of property took place, the violence escalated greatly when the counter-protestors arrived.

In addition to better protecting those protesting, we believe that UC Davis’s statement should have more clearly differentiated between the protestors and counter-protestors, and should have condemned the Proud Boys’ presence at the event. 

The Proud Boys are described as a “right-wing extremist group with a violent agenda” by the Anti-Defamation League, and its members are known to support white supremacist and antisemitic ideologies. These were not students exercising their freedom of speech; they were a group there to incite violence and disrupt the demonstration. The university should not have equated the Proud Boys with the students protesting.

We know Tuesday’s events were distressing for many, the members of the Editorial Board included, and we would like to express our support for students who may be feeling targeted or unsafe on campus as a result. We support ASUCD President Radhika Gawde and Internal Vice President JT Eden’s efforts to encourage a more effective university response. We affirm the right of students to be politically active on campus, and call upon the university to cultivate a safe environment for future protests.

Written by: The Editorial Board