Coulter sparks conversation, controversy
Lesley Stevenson | Thursday, April 10, 2014
Conservative political pundit Ann Coulter will address Notre Dame students tonight as part of the Notre Dame College Republicans’ Lincoln Day Dinner celebration in a public lecture that has sparked debate among several student groups.
In the past, Coulter has commented on issues relating to abortion, illegal immigration, terrorism and Notre Dame’s decision to invite President Barack Obama to speak at the 2009 Commencement ceremony and give him an honorary degree.
Junior Mark Gianfalla, president of College Republicans, said he chose Coulter to speak at the group’s largest event of the year because her views on political and social issues closely align with the points College Republicans has advocated this year. (Editor’s Note: Gianfalla is a columnist for The Observer.)
“We’re a chapter at a Catholic university, and we think issues of abortion and gay marriage are just as important as a balanced budget so we’ve really been focusing on drawing attention to those aspects of conservatism that also don’t get as much attention on campus or from campus groups that are here,” Gianfalla said. “… I think she brought the most attention to what our club is focusing on.”
Junior Tyler Bowen, vice president of Notre Dame College Democrats, said Coulter is “someone who makes a career of … inciting controversy through inflammatory opinions.”
“It’s not that you don’t have the right to bring her here, but in bringing her here, we believe you’re bringing in someone that definitely does not represent what we view as Catholic values, particularly pertaining to social justice and poverty issues,” Bowen said.
Gianfalla said he wanted to bring a speaker with a socially conservative perspective also as a response to what he believes to be an increasingly liberal University administration and student government.
“You have other groups on campus, this year in particular, with a somewhat liberal-leaning student government that has now passed on its reins, that focused on social liberal ideals,” he said.
“You have the Progressive Student [Alliance], PrismND pushing gay rights and — not that we’re against gay rights, just against gay marriage — you had student government supporting the decision to admit undocumented students … and a lot of groups came out in support of a lot of other leftist social ideals.
“So to fairly combat that, we wanted to focus on a socially conservative speaker, and Ann, we thought, did a great job. She brings a lot of attention to that platform and a lot of energy as well.”
Sophomore and College Democrats secretary Michelle McCarthy said her opposition to Coulter’s visit stems from Coulter’s “vitriolic language” that offends many minority groups.
“She engages in very hateful rhetoric that is offensive to a lot of people and groups, and I don’t think that she … is an expert on policy or really involved in actual governing,” McCarthy said. “She’s a political pundit who gets a lot of attention because she is very offensive and that creates media frenzy.”
“Our opposition to her isn’t partisan, it’s about human decency,” she said.
Wednesday, members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) of Notre Dame and other student groups staged a silent demonstration outside of South Dining Hall to raise awareness for the effects of Coulter’s “hate speech,” NAACP of Notre Dame president and junior Niciah Petrovic said.
“It’s in no way a protest and in no way are we opposed to her coming here and speaking,” she said. “We actually think this is a great opportunity to engage in dialogue about this type of speech, how it affects us, what the motivations are … and what we can learn from it.”
“I’m really thankful that she’s coming, honestly,” Petrovic said. “I’m thankful for the free speaker policy because this gives us the opportunity to engage ideas which may sound controversial.
“This is a university. We’re supposed to be engaged in this kind of intellectual dialogue all the time. This is a great opportunity for us to do that.”
Petrovic said demonstrators passed out flyers with quotes from Coulter with cited sources. She said the demonstration was silent and participants wore all black clothing “because the quotes speak for themselves.”
Gianfalla said Coulter’s opinions and her way of expressing them reflect her socially conservative views and ability to promote them effectively.
“[Coulter is] fun to listen to,” he said. “She definitely doesn’t care what’s politically correct. People find that as a problem, but in this day and age too much emphasis is put on being politically correct, and a lot of what she says is based on fact and experience.”
“She’ll get negative attention because people take it negatively, not because she means it negatively,” he said. “Some of the things she said about abortion are controversial, these people think they’re inflammatory, but it’s just really creative ways of phrasing the conservative stance on abortion.”
Junior Shaaya Ellis, a member of College Republicans, called Coulter’s work “really, really phenomenal” and said most of Coulter’s critics have not read her writing. He said he did not always agree with Coulter’s comments but respects her right to free speech.
“Everyone likes free speech until you use free speech,” he said. “Free speech isn’t created to talk about how beautiful the sun is, it’s created to talk about controversial issues that some people don’t agree with. … Free speech is giving people who aren’t going to agree with you the platform to speak.”
Bowen said College Democrats agreed Coulter should be allowed to speak at Notre Dame, but he said the members’ complaints focused on Coulter’s views and manner of expressing them.
“I was uncomfortable with it being aimed at getting her to not speak because that is a move towards censoring her, [and] even though I don’t want her speaking, she also has the right to,” he said. “We acknowledge her right to speak here. We also, in doing so, want to vehemently disagree with her views and point out that she is totally unrepresentative of what we view the Notre Dame community as and the Notre Dame family as and how we think America should get along.”
Gianfalla said students and faculty “should realize that having a socially conservative Catholic should not, one, come as a surprise and, two, shouldn’t be seen as something that’s polarizing a largely Catholic student body in a Catholic university.”
“She is someone that embodies the social conservative platform and can bring unmatched attention to that, and that is … something that should be in line with this University’s core on the social conservative issues that I’ve mentioned,” Gianfalla said. “That’s why we’re bringing her, that’s what we’ll gain from it.”
Sophomore Matthew Wong, chair of the Diversity Council (DC), said DC recognizes Coulter’s right to speak at Notre Dame under the University’s open speaker policy and hopes to use her visit as a way to engage students in dialogue.
“Diversity Council does not actively support Ann Coulter coming to speak at Notre Dame,” Wong said. “Although DC does represent people of diverse backgrounds whether it is culture, creed, sexual orientation or political affiliation, we realize that many of Ann Coulter’s comments ostracize and demean the clubs that form our council, our work, what we represent and what we stand for.”