UWS students protest conservative speaker on campus
About 45 people attended the protest, while organizers said 400 people attended the talk.
SUPERIOR — Roughly 45 University of Wisconsin-Superior students and community members gathered outside Old Main to protest a speech on campus by Matt Walsh, a conservative political commentator with the Daily Wire.
The speaking engagement was sponsored by the UWS chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, a student organization that was founded in 2021. The group's main goal is to help spread conservative thought and ideals on campus, according to chapter President Aidan Jones.
"We invited Matt Walsh to speak at UW-Superior because we hoped to offer an alternative to the left-wing ideologies that are accepted as established facts on our campus," Jones said.
The protesters used signs, flags and sidewalk chalk to share a message of inclusion for the LGBTQ community, a position they said Walsh does not support.
“He pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable to talk about, in ways that could incite hatred towards minority groups. And that’s what we are extremely concerned with, especially because the YAF invited him on our campus knowing we have a huge population of LGBTQIA students,” said Emma Hellerud, a UWS senior.
She said they wanted to create a safe space for queer individuals and show them that they are supported.
“UWS students will not stand for this kind of thing. We don’t accept hatred. We’re supposed to be known as a place that involves diversity and inclusivity for everybody. We’re not going to be OK with people trying to shut that down,” said UWS senior Molly Johnson.
The students took their concerns about the speaker to administrators.
“While we understand that some may find Mr. Walsh’s views offensive, universities—especially public institutions legally bound by the first amendment—must welcome free speech and the expression of opposing views,” said Jordan Milan, senior communications officer for UWS, in a statement. “University administrators have been working directly with students to ensure they are educated and equipped to engage in civil discourse.”
More than 400 people attended the event, Jones said, and he was proud that the chapter was able to provide an opportunity for students and community members to hear from a national-level conservative speaker free of charge.
"Although I wish that the students who were protesting the event had attended in order to hear what the speaker had to say, I certainly recognize their right to free speech and assembly," Jones said. "I am grateful that our event was able to move forward without disruption."
Kate Haga was among those at the protest.
"It's a simple matter of respecting other people," she said.
Nearby, senior Suzanne Vanhoever was chalking in a series of flags.
"I just wanted to come and support the LGBTQ community and support diversity on campus," Vanhoever said.
Johnson and Hellerud coordinated the protest, and said they were happy with the turnout.
“That was kind of the point just to show up and say that, yeah, you can spew all the hatred that you want but we’re still here, we’re not going anywhere,” Johnson said.