Cowley: Keep Turning Point USA Off of Campus

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Jake Stranzl

University of Utah Campus in Salt Lake on Oct. 11, 2020. (Photo by Jake Stranzl | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Elle Cowley, Opinion Writer, Audio Producer

 

A few weeks ago, I visited our campus’ back-to-school club fair. There were lots of organizations and groups tabling, but one in particular stuck out to me. To my surprise, Turning Point USA had set up a table. They offered fliers to TPUSA events and copies of the Constitution, which were littered with pandering graphics and quotes from TPUSA contributors. They handed out buttons with phrases like “socialism sucks” and “I heart capitalism.”

Someone who isn’t aware of TPUSA antics may brush off their presence as another political group. But for those who are familiar with TPUSA’s history, their presence here is concerning. TPUSA has no place on our campus, and I am disappointed that our university allowed them to have a platform.

What is Turning Point USA?

TPUSA is a right-wing political organization founded by commentator Charlie Kirk. The organization’s website and social media pages post of a “culture war,” with one Facebook video titled: “A Cancel Culture War Is Being Waged Against Our Founding Fathers.” Many of their articles and videos contain similar inflammatory headlines, followed by statements that can be disproven with a simple Google search. These articles don’t seek to inform people on current events, but rather fuel the reactionary conservative movement here in the U.S. Their merch shop is only further evidence of this, with shirts for sale bearing the slogans “Real Men Aren’t Women.” The caption for this shirt reads “A fan favorite at SAS 2022, this unisex shirt is perfect for patriots who understand biology!”

TPUSA panders to the lowest form of political discussion and feeds the victim complex of conservative Americans, pushing the notion that conservatism is under attack. They also continuously platform right-wing speakers that push misinformation and conspiracy theories. At Americafest 2021, which is a yearly conservative convention hosted by TPUSA, some of the speakers included Rep. Matt Gaetz, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Rep. Lauren Boebert and Rep. Madison Cawthorn. These congress members voted to overturn the 2020 election results, and have ties to spreading conspiracy theories and misinformation. Rep. Lauren Boebert has vocally supported the alt-right QAnon conspiracy, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has spoken at white supremacist events. These members of Congress spout harmful and downright dangerous ideologies, and any organization that gives them a platform does not belong in an academic environment.

If the people TPUSA supports aren’t already telling enough in how dangerous they are as a group, founder Charlie Kirk tweeted that TPUSA was busing people to the capitol for the Jan. 6 insurrection. TPUSA also repeatedly vocalized support for Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who traveled across state lines during a Black Lives Matter protest and shot and killed two people.

The U’s Responsibility

As an educational institution, the University of Utah has a responsibility to foster an environment of critical thinking and growth. Allowing institutions such as TPUSA to have a place on campus is only stifling true intellectual political discussion. Political groups can and should exist on our campus, but when a group has a long history of pushing false information and conspiracy theories, we shouldn’t question whether or not they’re allowed on school grounds. It appalls me that the U claims to be an inclusive space for students while actively supporting a group that platforms white supremacists and Christian nationalists.

The U needs to do better at vetting political groups that come on to campus. As our current political climate becomes more and more polarized, it’s more important than ever to promote critical thinking and discussion. The spread of ideas such as the ones promoted by TPUSA only serve to polarize our campus and make spaces less safe for marginalized groups.

University is a critical time in a young person’s life, so we need to foster a safe environment for students to learn and grow. I hope to see more of an effort to vet groups that are allowed to table on campus moving forward.

 

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@elle_cowley_