A message from campus authorities went out Tuesday afternoon to alert University of Utah students of increased police presence, relocated classrooms and barriers near the Social and Behavioral Science Building on Wednesday.
Controversial conservative commentator Ben Shapiro is coming to town.
In anticipation of tension surrounding the event, the university’s 40-member police force will patrol the campus, as they do during sporting events, and will be supplemented as needed by officers from the Salt Lake City Police Department and the Utah Highway Patrol, said U. spokesman Christopher Nelson.
Shapiro, editor-in-chief of the Daily Wire and former editor-at-large of Brietbart News, was invited by the Young Americans for Freedom student group.
His lecture will be held Wednesday evening in the auditorium next to the Social and Behavioral Science Building (BEH S), and is expected to be protested by the Utah Students for a Democratic Society, the Utah branch of Black Lives Matter and the United Front.
The police will be ready if Wednesday night turns violent, Nelson said, but he doesn’t anticipate arrests.
“I certainly don’t expect any violence, I don’t expect any property damage,” Nelson said, adding that what he expected was “passionate protesters, passionate people on both sides of the issue.”
The building will be secured with barricades and police officers plan to create a separation between groups who support Shapiro and the protesters who don’t. Faculty had the option of relocating their classes to other buildings Wednesday evening, and the surrounding buildings will be cleared to create “a buffer zone,” Nelson said.
“Our campus goal for tomorrow is to make sure, whatever you’re coming to campus for, whether you’re coming to hear Mr. Shapiro speak or whether you’re coming to protest, that you can do so safely,” Nelson said.
Campus groups had already held demonstrations — both in support and opposition to Shapiro’s invitation — throughout the month of September.
In anticipation of more protests, Nelson and a team of police officers and University representatives went to California earlier this month to observe how UC Berkley handled Shapiro speaking at its campus on Sept. 15.
One of the ideas the group that went to Berkeley brought back was separating the two groups by a buffer, Nelson said.
We’re “not trying to limit protesters,” Nelson said, but they will be cordoned away from the entrances and exits used by students attending the lecture.
Tuesday’s campus alert also stated that no masks, bandanas or other face coverings will be allowed on campus.
Campus officials expect the protests to start in the late afternoon, at President’s Circle, then migrate to the building where Shapiro will speak.
No curfew is being imposed on campus for the event, and Nelson expects people to peacefully disperse by 10 or 11 p.m.
“University is committed to these shared values of freedom of speech, but also equity and diversity,” Nelson said. “This is one [event] that challenges all of those ideas, so the University’s position is, we are committed to free speech, but we’re also committed to making sure are students have as little disruption to their education as possible and we are committed to making a safe campus for everyone.”
There are several other events also scheduled on campus Wednesday: a lecture by poet and activist Jade Phoenix sponsored by the College of Social Work, and, earlier in the day, a forum to discuss free speech, sponsored by the University Counseling Center.
The Department of Sociology and the College of Social and Behavioral Science scheduled a performance regarding race, class and gender for Wednesday evening. Earlier in the week, the Hinckley Institute and the Bennion Center hosted a forum titled, “Free Speech at What Cost.”