Fordham University recently made headlines after a group of students was ejected from a campus coffee house, supposedly for their conservative political views.
Fox News, predictably, has used the incident as one more piece of evidence of the left’s supposed war on free speech.
But let’s be clear about what happened here. Reportedly, a group of around eight students sporting “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) clothing entered the coffee house. These students — and the conservative media outlets pushing their story — would like you to believe that they were discriminated against for the political views.
One of the conservative students, Aaron Spring, appeared yesterday on the Fox News program “The Story With Martha MacCullum.” While on air, Spring was asked if the incident was intended to provoke a conversation.
Spring replied, “No, of course not, we were just a group of friends getting coffee.”
If you find it suspicious that a group of MAGA-wearing students walked together into a well-known hangout for left-leaning students simply looking to get a cappuccino, you have good reason.
Look no further than Sebastian Balasov, president of the Fordham University College Republicans and one of the MAGA-wearing students present during the incident, in order to have your suspicions validated.
Balaslov says that the incident was premeditated in an effort to gain attention. In fact, Balaslov says that the stunt was floated following a Nov. 30 meeting of the College Republicans.
In other words, Spring likely lied about — or, if we’re being generous, significantly mischaracterized — the nature of the incident.
As an alumnus of Fordham, I am familiar with some of the specifics pertaining to this incident. To begin with, the coffee house that the conservative students targeted, called Rodrigues, has long been a lefty, student-run hangout space on campus.
This is undoubtedly why the conservative students chose the coffee house to stage their stunt. (For the record, however, Rodrigues has had College Republicans on staff in the past, undercutting the claim that these students were ejected simply for holding conservative views.)
These students entered the space with the goal of making the people within it uncomfortable. They claim that they were ejected for their political views. But, in reality, they were asked to leave the coffee house because they entered as a group of people wearing political paraphernalia that was clearly intended to upset other patrons of the coffee house.
These students were not looking to start a dialogue. They were looking to provoke. The anger directed toward them was in reaction not to their political views, but in reaction to their intention of making a scene.
This stunt was, presumably, meant to demonstrate a supposed liberal hostility to free speech on campus. But how would these conservative students feel about a group of students entering Campus Ministry while wearing pro-choice t-shirts? Would the College Republicans and Fox News be concerned about protecting those students’ free speech?
There are undoubtedly situations in which conservative students are made to feel uncomfortable when voicing their political views. That is simply not what happened at Fordham University.
No one is saying these students shouldn’t be able to voice their views. However, these students weren’t looking to engage in dialogue with others; they were looking to shove their views in other people’s faces. Then, they have the gall to cry “foul” when other people became uncomfortable — which was precisely their goal in the first place. This is a gimmick, not an exercise in free speech.
This incident at Fordham is nothing but an out-of-context, disingenuous hoax. You can call it “free speech,” or you can call it what it actually is: bullshit.
Canton Winer is a freelance writer and a sociology Ph.D. student at UC Irvine. He is also an alumnus of Fordham University. You can follow him on Twitter at @CantonWiner.