For some, her words provoke hisses, heckles and the occasional jettisoned pie. For others, they elicit cheers and standing ovations. Few University Lecture Series speakers evoke these kinds of polarized responses, but controversy is no stranger to political commentator and author Ann Coulter.
As both detractors and supporters organize for Coulter’s speech at the Sun Dome on Thursday night, University Police and Sun Dome administrators are reviewing security plans and deciding how they will deal with potential demonstrators.
University Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Klingebiel said as long as the protests remain non-disruptive, police won’t have to intervene.
“We have to strike a balance between providing an educational environment where lecturers are allowed to speak and people are allowed to protest,” Klingebiel said.
To do this, UP is staffing extra officers to make sure outside protests don’t impede attendees from entering the Sun Dome and that protests inside don’t disrupt Coulter’s speech.
Coulter, a conservative author, columnist and political pundit, has drawn the ire of many for her sensational comments and combative speaking style. She’s a regular political commentator on national television and talk radio shows, and she has authored five New York Times bestsellers.
Several of her speeches on college campuses have been met with vigorous protest.
In 2004, students at the University of Arizona threw pies at Coulter during one of her speeches. In 2005, University of Connecticut hecklers forced Coulter to cut her speech short and instead conduct a question-and-answer session with the audience. At Indiana University in February, Coulter had to halt her speech numerous times while police removed disruptive protesters.
“We are not going into this blindly,” said Sun Dome Event Services Director Seth Benalt, who is working with UP to ensure the event runs smoothly. “We know that she’s toured and that there has been some incidents at some of her lectures.”
Benalt said protestors who try to disrupt the event would be infringing on the rights of those who want to listen.
“It’s common sense,” Benalt said. “Unless you’re irresponsible or immature, you don’t disrupt an event.”
Outside, demonstrators will be allowed to stage their operations in designated areas between the two Sun Dome entrances being used for the event. However, they will not be allowed on any concrete areas immediately outside the venue entrances. Inside, banners and signs will not be allowed, and anyone who tries to disrupt the event will be removed.
Several student groups have already planned to demonstrate at the event, but none of their plans thus far would break any of these rules.
Iris Elijah, director of programming for ULS, said while the main reason the organization brought Coulter to USF was to increase the diversity of lecturers. A secondary reason was she would be the type of speaker to get students talking.
“We like that students are engaged and talking about this,” Elijah said.
After hearing about Coulter’s speech at USF, Chris Hechevarria, a board member of USF’s Pride Alliance, said he was outraged after reading some of her work.
“The fact that our school hemorrhaged so much money for this, it just pissed me off,” Hechevarria said. “As an organization we get very little money through Student Government and through the school. The general membership was just like, ‘How could they do this?’ ‘How could they bring some hate-mongering person here?'”
In response, Hechevarria said his organization sent Coulter a formal letter inviting her to a coffee-hour rendezvous after the speech to discuss issues concerning the gay community.
“‘Come talk to us,'” Hechevarria said in the letter. “‘You have a lot to say to us.'”
Though Coulter has not yet replied to the letter, Hechevarria plans to invite her publicly during the question-and-answer session following the lecture.
Allison Rhodes, a member of the Feminist Student Alliance, said she plans to stage a walkout at 8 p.m. along with the Pride Alliance and several other groups, such as the Alliance of Concerned Students and the Queer Liberation Front.
Jennelle Buza, who is the Queer Liberation Front’s co-chair, said the walkout will be conducted peacefully and would not disrupt Coulter’s speech.
Like Hechevarria, Buza also decided her organization needed to take action after reading Coulter’s opinions.
“I knew we had to organize something that was going to affect the student body in a positive way,” Buza said.
Chair of the women’s studies department Kim Vaz said she was displeased over ULS’s selection of Coulter.
“It is unfortunate that the ULS has selected to use student funds to bring a figure that espouses such extreme views and is plagued by controversy not only about her views, but by charges of passing off the work of others as her own,” Vaz said.
John Cult, president of USF’s College Republicans, said he was pleased to learn of the idea to bring Coulter to campus, but he does not think Coulter represents mainstream conservative views.
“She does represent people who consider themselves solely conservative … people firmly at the right of the political spectrum. She does say some things that are extreme. Part of what she does is stir the pot and get people talking.”
Though the College Republicans are not meeting with Coulter privately, Cult hopes she’ll at least be available for photos with some of the club’s members.
“In our experience, students on this campus have always been well-behaved,” Benalt said. “Any group that wants to protest knows how to do so responsibly. It all comes down to respecting others’ opinions.”