Hours before campus carry activist Antonia Okafor was set to present a speech at Hampshire College titled “Women Empowerment and the Second Amendment,” the event was abruptly canceled by the administration on Wednesday night. However, the university is pushing back against the characterization that it's silencing speech and raising questions about the group's intent to host the event in the first place.
“[A]n event where someone is coming to campus to speak about the second amendment, which is a very controversial subject, would need to have extra considerations and precautions put into place which cannot be done on short notice,” Carolyn Strycharz, Director of Campus Leadership and Activities, wrote in an email to Rahim Hirani, president of Junoon - South Asian & Int'l Students Association.
Strycharz continued in the email inquiring why Junoon, an organization that typically hosts Eid and Diwali dinners (two religious holidays celebrated in the Indian subcontinent among Muslims and Hindus, respectively), is hosting an event that focuses on the Second Amendment, saying, "Could you please explain why Junoon is sponsoring an event of this nature when it is not associated with the group's mission statement?"
The group's mission statement on the Hampshire College website states: "Junoon is a student group on campus designed to immerse oneself into the South Asian culture on the campus. Regardless of cultural background or exposure, this group is open to anyone who is interested in learning more about the different holidays, traditions, and cultural differences within the South Asian community. Junoon will host several cultural events: Holi, Diwali, Eid, Mushaira (poetry - musical night) etc."
Hosting an event focused on the Second Amendment seems odd, nevertheless, the abrupt cancellation came despite the event being approved earlier in the week, according to an email exchange obtained by the Washington Examiner.
“This notification confirms that Campus Leadership and Activities (CLA) approves your event registration and space,” reads an email sent on Monday by Raven Fowlkes-Witten, Program Assistant in the Activities Department.
As news broke of the event’s cancellation, #HampshireHatesFreedom began trending on Twitter.
Do not call yourself a higher institution of learning when you can not even handle someone discussing our right to self-preservation. #HampshireHatesFreedom— Eric Shaffer (@realEricShaffer) December 7, 2017
Acc to the Left: America is the land of the free (as long as you agree with me), and home of the brave (but I’m brave only as long as you don’t challenge my views).#HampshireHatesFreedom https://t.co/TvxGSJ83om— Abraham Mathew ن (@AbrahamGMathew) December 7, 2017
In response to the outrage, John Courtmanche, spokesperson for Hampshire College, released a public statement:
“We did not cancel the speech because of the speaker, the subject of the speech, or the content. Hampshire College values academic freedom and the careful examination of ideas, including when those ideas may be controversial.
“The College did not follow its own procedures in sufficiently reviewing the application before we approved it. We take responsibility for that mistake.
“We canceled the event when we realized that the student application was not sufficiently complete. It lacked the necessary details we require in advance of any event, particularly one that might draw large audiences and intense debate, so we can allot the appropriate resources to staff and support the event. We will reach out to Antonia Okafor and to the student organizers with an offer to discuss this process and consider options for rescheduling her visit to campus.”
Junoon told the Washington Examiner that their application for Okafor to speak included a photo of her with two Kimber 1911 pistols, her biography, and a title with "second amendment,” so they felt there was no way the college was left without enough information.
Okafor appeared skeptical as well.
“Hampshire knows that the student, Rahim Hirani, filled out the paperwork in the appropriate manner. Rahim regularly hosts events on campus and knows exactly how to fill out the application… The email canceling my speech says very clearly that they deemed the topic of my speech, the second amendment, to be ‘very controversial.’ So the topic did, in fact, have to do with Hampshire canceling my speech with little to no notice,” Okafor told the Washington Examiner.
“Someone failed to do a Google search on me and then started freaking out once professors, students, and the media started calling in, demanding that I don’t speak… They caved.”
Okafor is the co-founder of EmPOWERED, a movement of women on college campuses all over the country who feel empowered when they use their firearms for self-defense.
In a follow-up statement from Hampshire College, they admit that they made a mistake with respect to reviewing the application process, saying, "We did not cancel the speech because of the speaker, the subject of the speech, or the content. Hampshire College values academic freedom and the careful examination of ideas, including when those ideas may be controversial. The College did not follow its own procedures in sufficiently reviewing the application before we approved it. We take responsibility for that mistake."
The statement continued explaining why they canceled the event and that they will look to reschedule her talk in the near future.
"We canceled the event when we realized that the student application was not sufficiently complete. It lacked the necessary details we require in advance of any event, particularly one that might draw large audiences and intense debate, so we can allot the appropriate resources to staff and support the event. We will reach out to Antonia Okafor and to the student organizers with an offer to discuss this process and consider options for rescheduling her visit to campus."
Despite admitting where they were at fault, Courtmanche said, in a follow-up email to the Washington Examiner, that Junoon has never hosted a political event before.
"They're a South-Asian student group whose mission is to hold South-Asian themed events," Courtmanche wrote. "The college requires students to give at least two weeks notice when applying to host an even, to ensure we have time to assess necessary resources and staffing."
He continued. "This application was not submitted by the student two weeks in advance. That is an example of where staff did not sufficiently follow our own procedures in approving the event. Staff members realized yesterday afternoon that the event application was incomplete. The contract request form that was submitted by the student was denied at that point because it did not have complete information about the presenter, i.e. there was no contract in place with the presenter where a contract was necessary. We're changing staff procedures immediately to prevent this from happening again."
Courtmanche mentioned that Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash called Okafor on Thursday morning to discuss "exploring options for rescheduling the visit."
[Editor's note: Antonia Okafor is one of Red Alert Politics' 2017 30 Under 30 award winners.]
Devin Sena (@DevinSenaUI) is a Florida based photographer and journalist.