Controversy after conservative commentator announces visit

Posters announcing an event with Michael Knowles, a conservative political commentator, hosted by the Purdue University College Republicans were hung across campus Tuesday.

Earlier this week, Michael Knowles stood in front of a darkened, crowded auditorium during the final day of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland.

“For the good of society,” the conservative commentator said, “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely – the whole preposterous ideology, at every level.”

Now, he’s coming to Purdue.

With the help of an $8,000 grant from the Student Organization Grant Allocation Board, Knowles is set to hold a speech on March 23 at the Purdue Memorial Union North Ballroom.

Spencer Johnson, the public relations and communications director for Purdue University College Republicans, said Knowles is coming to Purdue to speak about “the issue of transgender ideology in the United States.”

SOGA, a student resource initiative supported by the Purdue Student Government, provides grants to clubs and organizations to host events and purchase equipment, according to the Purdue University website.

According to SOGA’s BoilerLink page, any student organization can submit a SOGA grant request, regardless of member number. Events most frequently funded are events that are free and open for everyone.

Organizations can submit their grant requests and will undergo review by the SOGA board for approval. Sean Wiseman, SOGA president and PSG treasurer, said the SOGA board did not do any additional review of Knowles.

He said SOGA’s neutrality meant the board could not reject an event if it disagreed with it politically.

“The way I went about (approving Knowles’ event) was viewing what kind of budget we have, viewing what SOGA could offer in terms of grant assistance with any fees for equipment or facilities and went from there,” Johnson said. “Michael was one of the more affordable individuals to bring in.”

Charlotte Santos, a transgender student who uses she/her pronouns and is a freshman in the Polytechnic Institute, said she believes SOGA should not have approved the grant.

“Honestly, I think that grant shouldn’t have been given, considering that Purdue has a non-discrimination statement,” she said. “It says ‘Purdue University prohibits discrimination against any member of the University community on the basis of . . . sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.’”

With controversies surrounding Knowles comments at CPAC, Johnson said that nothing could change the upcoming event, but he didn’t “expect there to be so many news headlines about it so close to the event.”

“As a conservative club and as the one planning for this, I know what he believes on a personal basis and what he puts out to the world. It was to be expected from the beginning,” he said.

Because there is no outside research on speakers except what is put on the application, Wiseman said SOGA remains unbiased in their application of grants.

“We normally don’t withdraw funding, unless we miss something major in the guidelines,” Wiseman said.

Wiseman said PSG has received emails with backlash to Knowles coming to Purdue, but he himself had not received any offering to help fund the event.

“And as far as those speaking about planning protests, they have every right to,” Johnson said. “I feel like they should be allowed to just as we should be allowed to host this event.”

As of Wednesday, the LGBTQ Center director Lowell Kane said he had no comment on Knowles’ upcoming visit.

Santos said she feels Knowles’ event will bring increased discrimination against transgender individuals at Purdue.

“The term (Knowles) uses: transgenderism,” she said, “it makes it seem like it’s like some sort of ideology that someone created and not literally the way someone is.”

Specifically, Knowles’ use of the term “eradicate” is violent towards transgender individuals, Santos said.

“That sounds eerily similar to the rhetoric used by Nazi Germany when talking about the groups that they tried to eradicate,” she said.

“I personally don’t want any of my money going to Michael Knowles, seeing as he advocates for the ‘eradication of transgenderism,’” said Diego Albayati, a freshman in the Polytechnic Institute. “The intuitive assertion one makes is the removal, suppression or elimination of transgender people, and I don’t support the removal, suppression or elimination of people.”

The Purdue Graduate Student Government in its Wednesday meeting approved an emergency bill to condemn Michael Knowles and to make a public statement in support of Purdue’ LGBTQ community.

The bill’s author, doctoral student in the College of Science Daphne Fauber, criticized Knowles for only seeking controversy and attention, and said she was disappointed to see SOGA funds used for the event.

“I think it’s pretty disheartening. The idea of my tuition going to fund hate mongering rhetoric is crazy, and it makes me question the guidelines that we have in place for stuff like this,” Fauber said. “You can say free speech all you want, and that’s great, but there’s also the part of it that’s crossing the line if it’s literally excusing genocide.”

The resolution will be sent to the Student Activities Office, PSG and the PUCR. The resolution will also be sent to the Purdue Memorial Union Event Services condemning the use of space to host this event.

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