YCT demonstration had nothing to do with free speech

Sam Groves

In the aftermath of a demonstration on the West Mall earlier this month, the Young Conservatives of Texas released a statement insisting they “wished to engage in good faith dialogue with our peers about this process” and demanding a meeting with top University officials to “discuss ways that UT students can more safely engage in their First Amendment rights to express ourselves on this campus.”

This kind of rhetoric reflects the message YCT wants to promote regarding their demonstration. But others on campus, including the university itself, have taken that message and ran with it, using terms such as “free speech” and “open debate” in the context of YCT’s protest. I’m a little perplexed by this because the protest had nothing to do with any of that.

Let’s clarify what this demonstration was actually about.

On the surface, the demonstration was about confirming Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. YCT members held signs bearing messages such as “Confirm Kavanaugh” and “Kavanaugh for Justice.”

On a deeper level, the demonstration was about protecting male privilege and silencing survivors of sexual assault. It’s been a year since the start of the #MeToo movement, and while many see the movement as a force for progress and liberation, the members of YCT evidently see something different: a “witch hunt” that has “gone too far.” 

But at its core, the demonstration was about the only thing that has given conservatives purpose since they embraced the gaping void at the center of their movement: It was about triggering “the libs.” This is the fundamental mission of YCT, whose past exploits include 2013’s abortive “catch an illegal immigrant” game and 2016’s affirmative action bake sale. On their Twitter account, they routinely refer to Beto O’Rourke as “Beta,” a sly reference to the brutish rhetoric of online incel culture.

In fact, YCT’s social media presence provides ample evidence that the sole purpose of this event was to produce a reaction. If they had been concerned with engaging in a “good faith dialogue,” you might have expected them to actually promote the event so that people from outside their organization showed up to talk. But that’s not what happened.

Instead, all the promotion took place after the demonstration — and it didn’t take the regretful tone you might expect from organizers who failed in their mission. Instead, it was gleeful, triumphant and sneering in its contempt for the outrage the event had, in truth, been designed to provoke. Their Twitter feed from just after the protest is littered with choice words for their detractors — “poor insane,” “unhinged,” “violent,” “radical leftists.” Their chairman called for UT to be defunded if it didn’t vindicate them.

It’s understandable YCT would seek to conceal their inflammatory intent by accusing their opponents of being against free speech — and making demands of the University. But it’s disappointing to see the University accept that premise in the face of those demands. The Vice President for Student Affairs and the Chief of Police sent out an email saying that students who “choose to protest, demonstrate or speak (their) mind(s) … have every right to do so,” but asked them to “recognize that others on campus have those same rights and responsibilities, even if you consider their opinions offensive and objectionable.”

“The email reminds the University of Texas students and our campus that the university is dedicated to the rights of students to share their views freely and advocate for their beliefs,” said Jess Cybulski, assistant director of communications for the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs.

That’s an admirable commitment, but invoking it in this context reinforces the YCT narrative. From the start, the aim of the protest was not to advocate but to provoke, and by ignoring that reality, the University played right into YCT’s hands. The organization’s members aren’t victims — in fact, they got exactly what they wanted.

Groves is a philosophy senior from Dallas.