Free speech on college campuses is a hot-button issue in higher education. And the fiery debate about whom to allow on campuses is only going to get more fuel on Wednesday, October 3, when two young conservative speakers come to the University of Colorado Boulder.
Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, the controversial conservative youth group and self-proclaimed "largest and fastest growing youth organization in America," and Candace Owens, director of communications for the group, will be speaking at CU Boulder. The Colorado school is their first stop during their month-and-a-half-long Campus Clash tour.
A CU campus is a fitting place for a controversial student group to host two divisive speakers. On September 14, CU added robust protections to its free-speech and academic-freedom policies, as the university's Board of Regents passed sweeping changes to the regent laws, the highest guiding law at the university. The new updates stipulate that the university must maintain viewpoint neutrality, "meaning that the university shall not prohibit or restrict speech based upon either the substantive content of the speech or the message it conveys or because of the reaction or opposition of others to such expression."
TPUSA, as the organization is known, has chapters at colleges and high schools across the country. At lectures and recruitment events, chapter members often sport signs reading "Socialism Sucks" and "Big Government Sucks."
The group has also engaged in some highly questionable practices, including creating a Professor Watchlist, listing liberal-leaning professors on college campuses, and also allegedly attempting to use money to influence student-government elections. Some fellow young-conservative organizations hold bleak views of what they consider to be the group's lack of integrity and judgment.
"The long-term damage TPUSA could inflict on conservative students and the Conservative Movement can no longer be ignored," wrote Kimberly Begg, vice president and general counsel of Young America's Foundation, another young-conservative group, in a leaked memo. Begg also alleged that TPUSA inflates its membership numbers and overestimates its reach to appeal to donors.
Fitting in with the university's efforts to allow for full free speech on campuses, left-wing organizations will be organizing protests against TPUSA on campus. One will target Kirk's vocal defense of Brett Kavanaugh, while the other protest is a bit more playful. CU Young Democratic Socialists of America is organizing "Toilet Paper USA," a toiletries drive for Boulder residents experiencing homelessness. The play on TPUSA's name stems from an October 2017 campaign against safe spaces, during which members of TPUSA at Kent State dressed up in diapers to mock overly sensitive liberals. It backfired, and opponents of the group have been using it to make fun of the organization ever since.
Despite the criticism, many TPUSA members across the country feel that they are doing important activism.
To get more of an idea about the group at CU Boulder and the upcoming event, Westword spoke with Ashley Mayer, chapter president of TPUSA CU Boulder, which has approximately 200 members, forty of whom are active on a weekly basis.
Westword: How did you get involved in TPUSA?
Ashley Mayer: The 2016 election really got me interested in politics. In the spring semester of 2017, I was searching the web one day and found the Young Women's Leadership Summit. I applied and went to the Dallas summit in the summer. I had an incredible time and met incredible people. In the fall semester of 2017, I became a regular member. In the spring semester, I was appointed as president and have been in the role since then.
What's the group all about?
TPUSA is the largest and fastest-growing conservative organization in the nation. We focus on economic issues, limited government, and the First and Second amendments.
What happens at your weekly campus meetings?
The very first meeting of the semester, we played a game where we posed questions that are divisive in the conservative realm, like, "Are you for or against the death penalty?" and "Do you think the border wall is necessary?" People then talk to the other side about how they feel about the topic.
What are you hoping to get out of the event next week?
I feel like a lot of the time, people hear what we say, but they don't understand it. With Charlie and Candace coming, people can understand that we are not this wildly radical far-right group. All of us are very level-headed, very well-researched. They can see we have the ability to put on a successful event.
Do you expect protests or other issues?
I'm sure there are going to be protesters outside. But I don't worry about protesters. They have the right to protest against it.
How was the Ann Coulter event last academic year?
I believe it was successful. Everyone inside was engaged and listening. There was the walkout, but they were peaceful, and that's completely fine. We preface that type of event by saying that our TPUSA chapter doesn't necessarily endorse everything that she says. But we brought her, and it doesn't matter how radical a person is, since the First Amendment upholds any kind of speech.
Kimberly Begg of Young America's Foundation is highly critical of TPUSA. She says that TPUSA will do great damage to the conservative movement. What do you think of her opinion?
I believe that, at the end of the day, we're all fighting for the same cause. I don't really entertain the idea of having infighting within the young conservative moment because we're all fighting for the same cause.
A lot of people put their focus on Charlie and Candace. But TPUSA isn't Charlie and Candace and what they tweet. Turning Point is what the thousands of chapters across the country are doing.
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What do you think about CU's free-speech policy updates?
I think they're great. These kinds of policies don't just protect conservative students; they protect all students.
Do you have any plans to debate other groups on campus?
We've reached out to everyone, and they haven't reciprocated.
Tickets for the October 3 talk, which begins at 7 p.m. at the CU Event Center, are available here.