(NEW YORK) — Protestors at the University of New Mexico last week interrupted a speech by conservative commentator Tomi Lahren, who appeared at the invitation of conservative student group Turning Point USA. Video recordings show that student protesters chanted “Shut it down!” and pounded on the walls of the event room, making it difficult for the audience inside to hear the speaker; and during the Q&A someone pulled the fire alarm, forcing the event to end early. Allegations have also been made by multiple students of color that that event organizers denied them access to the event, despite being ticket holders.

“The heckler’s veto has no place on a college campus, no matter how controversial the speaker is,” said Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of free expression and education at PEN America. “Students have a right to protest speakers they disagree with, but they ought not to go so far as to drown a speaker out. By pounding on the walls of the event room and chanting loudly enough that the audience found it difficult to hear Lahren’s speech, the protesters violated the cardinal principle of open discourse that is vital to campus life.”

“That said,” Young continued, “allegations that event organizers denied entry to student ticket-holders on the basis of their race are deeply alarming. If true, organizers not only engaged in racial profiling on the campus of a minority-serving institution, they also denied their fellow students the opportunity to engage thoughtfully with the speaker.”

PEN America’s Campus Free Speech Guide provides guidance for campus administrators, faculty, and students on how to handle free speech controversies. To schedule one of PEN America’s free expression training sessions on your campus, visit our Campus for All trainings page.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, STrimel@PEN.org, 201-247-5057