By Shawn Ness, Samantha Simmons, Christian Hince, & Leigh Roberts | April 7, 2023
As pro-LGBTQIA+ chants overpowered Turning Point USA’s (TPUSA) University at Albany Chapter’s attempts at starting their “Free Speech” event, guest speaker Ian Haworth never made it out to the floor.
Avery Middendorf, President of TPUSA at UAlbany, attempted to quiet the crowd to start the event, followed by student protestors shouting “we can’t hear you.” While the night started loud, the volume fell after two students were arrested.
Protestors make themselves heard Tuesday night.
Photo Credit: Shawn Ness / The ASP
Roughly a dozen students gathered in the UAlbany Campus Center’s transfer lounge to hear Haworth, an editor at the Daily Wire and host of the Ian Haworth Show, present as a keynote speaker for their discussion on free speech in the United States on April 4. Over 100 attended in protest of the speaker, whom many alleged to be “transphobic,” or having or showing a dislike of or strong prejudice against transgender people.
A tweet by Haworth on International Transgender Day of Visibility
Tweet Credit: Ian Haworth / @ighaworth
Turning Point USA (TPUSA) is a conservative media organization that seeks to be the “most organized, active, and powerful conservative grassroots activist network on high school and college campuses across the country,” according to the TPUSA website. The organization frequently coordinates guest speaker events, like Haworth, to present at college campuses. According to Middendorf, the event was sponsored by TPUSA at UAlbany, not the institution of UAlbany itself.
Protesters’ voices filled the room with chants of “no cops, no KKK, no TPUSA,” and “what does solidarity look like? This is what solidarity looks like.” Haworth tweeted two videos from Instagram showing the protesters chanting and captioned it “smells like… fascism.”
The protesting crowd included numerous members from the UAlbany Chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), a national student organization affiliated with the Democratic Socialists of America, an activist non-governmental association (NGO), and College Democrats, a fellow political student group. Neither group had formal involvement however, as it was organized as a “grassroots movement” according to multiple sources.
“We want to show that he is not welcome on our campus and his ideology of transphobia is not welcome on our campus, we want to show up for our trans community here,” an anonymous protester of YDSA said. “[We’re] making sure that we show the trans community at UAlbany and beyond that there are more people that love them and support them than people who are spewing this hatred.”
“Personally, I love the fact that students are expressing their right to free speech, and I’m genuinely so excited people showed up,” Selwa Khan, a UAlbany Student Association (SA) senator, said.
Other SA senators agreed with Khan in comments during the Presidential Candidate Forum on Wednesday, April 5.
“I think it's deeply upsetting that the university didn't respond faster,” Senator Sean Millington said. “We have to take a hard look at how we look at groups on this campus going forward, because speakers like that should never be never be allowed here.”
“The university assigned extra Student Affairs staff to engage students who might assemble to protest the speaker,” UAlbany’s Director of Communications and University Spokesperson Jordan Carleo-Evangelist said. “When the protesters prevented the program from proceeding, University staff worked with the student organization to relocate the event to another location in the campus center with more controlled access. This was done to ensure the safety of all parties in the building and to allow both the event and the protest to continue.”
Following the event’s relocation, groups formed as the crowd left from the transfer lounge up to the third floor, with some protesters holding posters bearing sayings like “begone bigot,” “free speech means I can call you a twat,” and “the future isn’t binary.”
“We have two kids and I don’t want anybody to tell them how they can be themselves. We want them to live in a free country. It’s important that we show solidarity with the people that feel threatened,” a pair of Albany community members that attended the protest said. “I am personally appalled that they allowed hate speech on campus. We all know what happens when hate speech turns to action.”
Protesters make their way up to the third floor Tuesday night.
Photo Credit: Shawn Ness / The ASP
One anonymous student said, “I was a bit confused because I assumed that this was going to be more of a celebration of trans positivity. Now I see with the signs this is looking a bit more like a protest.”
Some protesters took to the student union in the campus center after the event had been discretely moved to the third floor of the building with the help of University Police (UPD). Their chants continued as they made rounds on the east side of the campus center and protesters made their way up the staircase in hopes to get into the now-private event.
The UPD Chief of Police, Paul Burlingame said, “It was my decision to move the event for safety reasons.”
Later, Burlingame said the event was not private, rather the room had reached capacity. While the room’s capacity was listed as 130, it was only configured to accommodate 30 people at the time, according to Carleo-Evangelist.
As the chanting of “No cops, no KKK, no TPUSA,” and “The people, united, will never be defeated,” continued, numerous UPD officers engaged with the protestors asking “What did I do?” These questions went unanswered as the protestors carried on.
Another anonymous student who was meaning to attend the TPUSA event said, “I’m here to hear what people have to say from both sides. I don’t know anything about the speaker, I just wanted to be informed.”
The crowd reconvened on the third floor of the campus center numerous times throughout the night in varying sizes to continue their shouts to the UPD officers standing in the hall between the stairwell and the meeting room.
As the night carried on, protesters used new approaches to make their voices heard, with one student using an elevator to access the area originally closed off to the crowd. The elevator was then shut off for the night after one protestor was arrested by UPD for disorderly conduct. Maceo Foster, a YDSA member and leader in the chants, was arrested for second degree governmental obstruction only six minutes later.
“This was a grassroots movement of students who saw flyers that had been posted up around the podium, and were concerned about the fact that a speaker who had built a significant portion of his image off of furthering this kind of rampant violent transphobia that we’re seeing today,” Foster said in a post-event interview.
Jordan Danner, a UAlbany student and arrest witness, called the speaker “incredibly problematic,” and said that Foster was told to exit an unauthorized area near the event’s new location he had forcefully entered to which he obliged, but was still arrested.
After three hours of protests as well as the arrests and releases of the two protestors, the crowd slowly began to disperse from the campus center, urging other protestors not to walk alone as many of them feared for their safety.
More photos from the protest
Photo Credit: Shawn Ness / The ASP
Since the event transpired on Tuesday night, UAlbany and students’ posts have been heavily engaged on multiple social media platforms in both support and opposition of the protesters.
The following day on Twitter, discourse ensued after Haworth and transgender author and media personality, Chad Felix Greene, quoted a tweet with their remarks in disagreement with the students and their counter protest.
The university’s YDSA chapter condemned TPUSA, Haworth, university administration and UPD for their actions Tuesday night in a press release posted to their Instagram account.
They criticized campus staff members and officers on the scene for locking the transfer lounge during the first part of the night, mentioning how “any students attempting to re-enter the space after leaving to tend to basic needs (such as getting water or going to the bathroom) were denied re-entry.” It also criticized authorities on the scene for “making the campus center inaccessible for anyone who may have difficulty or inability with using stairs” by shutting off elevators.
The release made several university demands in response to Tuesday’s outcome: to drop all charges against the arrestees, to “divest funds from UPD and invest in a social worker based response unit,” to improve LGBTQIA+ resources and personnel on campus, and to implement “a restorative justice program, created with the input of marginalized student populations.” On Instagram, the organization encouraged people to voice their grievances to UAlbany President Havidán Rodríguez and Chief Burlingame.
A press statement Wednesday from the NYS Young Republicans and TPUSA UAlbany called the protest an “angry socialist mob,” and “a reminder that the frontline of the war on free speech and the first amendment is on college and university campuses across the nation.”
It continued, saying that while conservative students “fight to protect and promote free speech and the first amendment, those on the left are aggressively trying to silence students whose views and values do not conform to theirs.” Another post was made on April 6 in support of UPD's "efforts to keep [UAlbany's] campus safe."
Sarah Krutov, a field representative for Turning Point USA, claimed on Twitter that some protesters destroyed her bible during their proceedings.
NYS assemblyman of the 7th district Jarrett Gandolfo shared similar grievances in a letter to President Rodríguez.
“Allowing a mob of students to storm events and shout-down speakers with whom they disagree is unbecoming of the University of Albany and the entire SUNY system,” Gandolfo said. “I urge you [Rodríguez] to make a commitment to protect the free exchange of ideas on your campus.”
There are many U.S. Supreme Court cases that have established what the court refers to as “time, place and manner” restrictions for protests. Restrictions can include things like imposing limits on noise levels, assigning maximum occupancy numbers to certain spaces, and restricting the size or placement of signs on government property, according to Middle Tennessee State University’s First Amendment Encyclopedia.
“Consistent with the mission of an institution of higher learning, we expect members of our community to be able to voice their views in a manner that promotes constructive dialogue and honors UAlbany’s commitment to freedom of expression,” Carleo-Evangelist said. “This is especially true when it involves speech that members of our community find offensive or objectionable.”
Both arrested students have declined to speak on account of legal advice. The ASP will share updates as they arise.