MacIver News Service | April 24, 2018
By M.D. Kittle
UPDATED AT 2:45 p.m. to include comment from a UW-Stevens Point official.
MADISON, Wis. – Conservative speech is under assault again on a Wisconsin college campus, where the First Amendment has taken a beating in recent months.
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point College Republicans claim dozens of signs around campus promoting this week’s “NRA University” event have been ripped down by unknown vandals.
And it appears a former UW-Stevens Point student and employee posted on Facebook the names and email addresses of college Republicans and others, characterizing them as racists.
Amelia Heup, chairwoman of the College Republicans, called the actions the latest in the left’s intimidation game to stifle right-of-center speech.
“UWSP College Republicans have been under scrutiny in the past week and the voice of conservative students is being silenced in two separate occasions,” Heup told MacIver News Service. “We, as an organization, have talked to university administration in order to resolve and to bring attention to how the actions against the College Republicans are unacceptable.”
On Wednesday, the organization welcomes “NRA University.” The comprehensive program for college students is part of a campaign to “educate the next generation of gun rights advocates on exercising and maintaining their constitutionally guaranteed Right to Keep and Bear Arms,” according to the NRA website. In an era where the National Rifle Association has become the left’s bogeyman for gun violence, NRA University has been attacked by left-wing students who want to shut it down.
Heup said a suspect has not been identified, but she estimates at least 40 posters promoting the event have been removed from sites around campus. University police told her video surveillance shows someone taking down some of the posters, although they cannot definitively identify the person.
“We’ve probably replaced the posters six or seven times,” she said.
Despite the destruction of the College Republicans’ poster campaign, Heup said there’s plenty of interest in the program. Event planners are expecting 70 to 80 students.
Al Thompson, UWSP vice chancellor for Student Affairs and the university’s Senior Diversity Officer, said he referred the allegations to the Dean of Students and the matter is under investigation. He said a finding of guilt could lead to suspension, under UW-Stevens Point’s code of conduct.
Thompson, however, said all kinds of organizations, on the right and the left, have reported unauthorized removal or destruction of their signs.
College Republicans at Marquette University also are hosting an NRA University event, at 7 p.m. Tuesday. At least that’s the plan.
Zachary Petrizzo, Marquette freshman and chairman of the College Republicans, said two months after requesting space for the event, administration still hadn’t issued an approval, as of Monday. Petrizzo said he does have a classroom reserved for the approximately 50 students expected to attend, but it could be a tighter fit.
The young Republican said his group has given up on advertising events around the liberal Catholic college campus.
“They’re just going to be ripped down. And getting approved at Marquette is nearly impossible. Their flier policy is so restrictive,” he said.
Meanwhile, some Stevens Point College Republicans and others charge they have been defamed by a former student who labeled them as racists on Facebook – simply because of their perceived political affiliation.
“Hmm, on the bright side, UWSP has its own way to easily identify the racists at school, on the downside, the racists at UWSP get to easily find each other,” posted Erwin Palma on his Facebook account. He included names and email addresses of more than 100 individuals, including students and faculty members who are not members of the UWSP College Republicans. The posts were ultimately shared by many others.
Heup said Palma may claim he’s just using his First Amendment rights, but he’s practicing an intimidation campaign the left has excelled at in recent years.
“This is defaming a group on campus to silence them,” the College Republicans chairwoman said. “The UWSP College Republicans recognize that Mr. Palma has the same free speech rights. However, defaming a group of people in this manner is wrong.”
Thompson, the diversity director, said his records show that Palma graduated in December and, to the best of his knowledge, no longer works at UWSP. He said the incident is troubling, but told College Republicans that administration is “kind of stuck. He’s not ours anymore.” He advised the young Republicans to contact city law enforcement or take the matter to the local court system.
UW-Stevens Point has been at the center of some key speech battles of late.
The SGA did so after several “safe space” liberal students cried “hate group” at a student government meeting.
UWSP’s Student Affairs Office eventually announced it would overturn the decision denying Turning Point USA’s request to be an official campus group, citing media pressure and a failure of student government to act on the matter at its Nov. 16 meeting.
Nonprofit Turning Point USA’s mission is to “identify, educate, train and organize students to promote the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government,” according to the group’s website. Leftists have tried to label Turning Point as an “alt-right” hate group, because labeling is what leftists do.
Last month, liberal protesters, led by state Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) protested the UWSP administration’s plan to cut 13 low-enrollment majors and create or expand programs in higher demands.
The College Republicans stood virtually alone in commending the courage of administrators to do what was right for the future of the university and meet the real needs of college students. They took plenty of heat for that stand. And they stood up for Turning Point, voicing stern opposition against the drive to stifle another conservative group.
Heup said left-of-center groups have only intensified their efforts in the recent rise of conservatives at Stevens Point.
“Now we’re gaining momentum. We are a growing organization and we’re seeing conservative students willing to come out to events,” she said. “That’s only going to increase the pressure and the intimidation of liberals on campus.”
UWSP College Republicans has grown from just four active members a couple of years ago to 20 today, Heup said. It has seen its email circulation list grow from 20 to 105 recipients in that time.
“I think there is definitely an intimidation factor. (The left) is intimidated by the fact that we are growing. We have conservatives saying, ‘Enough is enough.’ We have conservatives students now no longer afraid to say, ‘I’m a conservative, and this is what I believe.’”