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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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News For U: Mecha Protests as YAF Hosts Far-Right Speaker

On this episode of News for U, the podcast team sits down with news editors Vanessa Hudson and Cael Roberts about recent protesting of far-right speakers on campus.
Sydney Stam
(Graphic by Sydney Stam | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


Emma: Hello and welcome back to News For U. I’m your host, Emma Ratkovic, joined by our producers Graham Jones and Eugene Lyons. On this episode of the podcast we are speaking with news editor Cael Roberts and assistant news editor Vanessa Hudson about the recent protest of a far-right guest speaker on campus. Hi, Cael and Vanessa. Thank you for joining us on the podcast today.

Vanessa: Hello, thanks for having me.

Cael: How’s it going?

Emma: In your recent story, you discuss the group YAF and the recent event they hosted that garnered controversy. What is YAF and who was part of it?

Vanessa: Alright, so YAF stands for Young Americans for Freedom. They’re a national organization with chapters all across the country, including one at the University of Utah. Students can join, and it’s basically just a Republican group on campus with Republican ideals.

Emma: And YAF hosted a guest named Michael Knowles at the Social Work building. Who is he and why did YAF have him speak?

Cael: Yeah, Michael Knowles is a pretty well known conservative commentator. He worked for The Daily Wire, which is like a pretty popular conservative news site. That’s where like, you get Ben Shapiro and Candace Owens, like that’s kind of their spot. And he is pretty famous because last year, he said at this conservative conference that “transgenderism [must] be eradicated from public life.” So YAF invited him here to speak about trans issues. Some of the advertisements for the event said things like “men can’t become women” or like “no child [is] in the wrong body.” So that was kind of the billing for that event.

Emma: And outside of the event, a group called Mecha held a rally. What is Mecha and who is a part of it?

Vanessa: So Mecha is another student organization on campus. They are self-described as an anti-imperialist, anti-colonial, socialist student organization — a political organization. They have a pretty big following with the University of Utah. It’s similar to Young Americans for Freedom, they have nationwide chapters and there also happens to be one at the University of Utah.

Emma: And what was the subject of Mecha’s rally and why did they choose to hold it outside of YAF’s event?

Cael: Yeah, so they were protesting Michael Knowles being there because of the things that he had said about transgenderism, and kind of because of his views on that. And so that’s why they were protesting. And I think they were also upset that that event was being held at the Social Work building. So they were chanting like stuff like “Transphobia has got to go.” And one of the chants that kept saying was “Eradicate Michael Knowles from public life” because of what he had said about transgenderism.

Emma: Who was in attendance at these intertwining events?

Vanessa: I’ll kind of talk about how we decided to cover this story in particular. We decided when we got there to kind of split it up. So I went into the building where YAF was at. And so who was in attendance there was people who were interested in seeing Michael Knowles. And according to one student I talked to they had about 1000 attendees for that event, and they could only let 300 of them into the auditorium where the event was held. That’s who I saw in attendance there.

Cael: Yeah. And then I was sort of on the protest side of the whole thing. So outside at the protest there was obviously, a lot of students, a lot of members of the queer community, a lot of allies to the queer community. Mecha had a lot of their organizers there. And there were also some people from the school of social work who were upset about the event being held in their building.

Emma: Do you believe any recent incidents led to this specific protest?

Vanessa: If I had to take an educated guess, I would say that nationwide and even just across the world you’ve seen new legislation being passed regarding gender-affirming care. For example, last year, during Utah’s legislative session, they banned gender-affirming care for minors. Another issue that was going on during this year’s legislative session was H.B. 257, which basically bans transgender individuals from using their preferred choice of bathroom. I mean, there’s also just been an increase of rhetoric and anti-trans hate, like across campus. Cael, I don’t know if maybe you want to speak to some of the more campus incidents that have happened.

Cael: Yeah, last semester, YAF held another event where they basically were doing a screening of an anti-trans movie, and in kind of advertising for that event they had a lot of, again, kind of anti-trans posters hung up around the Union and Mecha also protested that. And actually that was such a big protest that they weren’t even able to end up showing that film when they originally had planned to, along with the legislative session stuff. There is a lot of campus discussion around this issue, particularly between Mecha and YAF.

Emma: And so what other times have these two groups clashed?

Vanessa: Yeah, so last April, they hosted a watch party for another film, and it got a lot of attention on campus. There was a large police presence there, which caused students to be disgruntled with how things were handled, then back in the fall, as Cael said, there were a couple other events. And then even just this semester, they’ve had Elisha Krauss come to campus. There was no protest there. But I mean, one student I spoke with at this event said they brought Michael Knowles specifically, because they feel like he aligns very well with what the group thinks as a whole. Those are some other times that YAF and Mecha have clashed.

Emma: Are these protests of events a recent pattern or something more common?

Cael: For us as news editors, I can speak to that. They’ve been pretty common all year. It’s not really recent, in the past weeks or month, like it’s been this whole year. I think it’s kind of a case of two student groups who kind of have fundamentally opposed ideologies, just kind of each making their own voices heard, in their own ways.

Emma: Do you believe we will see more protests at the U in the future, and if so, why?

Vanessa: Yes, because it’s 2024, which means it’s a presidential election year. So I think that also plays a big role in this. Also, since I first covered YAF back last April, they have a following. And they’re gaining attention. More and more attention, which means they’re going to have more events like this, they’re not going to stop. I mean, Mecha’s protests haven’t stopped them. I think that this definitely could continue. I could see it being, continuing to be a thing for maybe many years to come.

Emma: And are the approaches YAF and Mecha are taking to free speech the best way for students to share their voices on campus?

Cael: I don’t know if I can say like, prescriptively what the best way for students to share their voices on campus is? I think as far as YAF and Mecha go, as long as things remain, like peaceful, like people aren’t getting hurt, classes aren’t being disrupted, they both have the right to do what they’re doing. Like, YAF has the right to invite these people. Mecha has the right to protest it. I guess I don’t – I can’t say whether or not that’s the best way to do it, but it’s a perfectly valid way to do it.

Emma: All right. Do you have any final thoughts or comments?

Vanessa: I guess one thing I will say is, I thought it was interesting. When you walked into the College of Social Work building, there were pride flags hung all around. And I remember asking a student what they thought about that. And they were like, “You know, I like I wish I would have seen American flags instead.” But I think it was just like an interesting experience as a reporter to – I didn’t expect it, but I thought it was an interesting way and a different way to protest something like that. And I thought it was a really unique way to do it.

Emma: Well, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today, Cael and Vanessa.

Vanessa: Thanks for having us.

Caelan: Thank you.

Emma: And I’m your host Emma Ratkovic. And thank you for tuning in to this episode of News For U. Stay tuned for weekly episodes.


Producer: Eugene Lyons — [email protected] | @LinkJayman

Producer: Graham Jones — [email protected]@grahamcool8

Host: Emma Ratkovic — [email protected]  | @eratkovic_news

Guest: Vanessa Hudson [email protected] | @vanessamwrites

Guest: Caelan Roberts [email protected]| @caelrobertsnews

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About the Contributors
Emma Ratkovic
Emma Ratkovic, News For U host
Emma is from Park City and is studying journalism and Spanish. She was an investigative writer for a year before doing full-time podcasting for the News For U and Uncovered Podcasts. She has also done work for the Park City Prospector, TownLift, and the University of Utah's Humanities Radio. She also runs an independent podcast called What's The Dilemma, which is available on most streaming platforms. She loves writing, producing, traveling, music, exercise, and hiking through the mountains of beautiful Utah.
Graham Jones
Graham Jones, Assistant Arts Editor
Graham Jones was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and moved to Utah to study film. Despite his passion for cinema, Graham joined the Chronicle to engage with the University of Utah community and pursue his love for journalism. Outside of the student media office, Graham can be found buried deep into the pages of a graphic novel or lip-syncing to the greatest hits of the 60s, 70s and 80s.
Sydney Stam
Sydney Stam, Design Director
Sydney Stam began at the Daily Utah Chronicle as a designer and illustrator in 2020 and is now currently the Design Director. She is pursuing her degree in graphic design with a minor in business at the University of Utah. Sydney grew up in Salt Lake City and loves being surrounded by the mountains. In her free time she enjoys kayaking, taking photos, hiking and drawing.

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