Days after Penn blocked conservative filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza from speaking in the ARCH building, the University announced that D'Souza will be permitted to speak at the Hall of Flags in Houston Hall on Tuesday.
University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy said the decision to move the event out of the ARCH building was based on security concerns, although he did not address follow-up questions on what the security concerns were. The event will be closed to the public, MacCarthy said, and only open to PennCard holders.
"I think it's unfortunate that the University is taking this stance," D'Souza said in an interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian Sunday. "Most importantly, I'm just there to talk about big issues that are dividing the country and stimulate a lively debate. And for the life of me, I don't understand why something like that should be controversial or frightening or pose security threats."
D'Souza's appearance is part of Young America's Foundation's "Preserving American Liberty and Freedom Lecture Series," and was originally scheduled for Nov. 12.
Reports circulated online suggesting that neo-Nazis were planning to attend the event. As part of a wider dispute between white nationalist Nick Fuentes and more establishment conservative groups, readers of neo-Nazi websites are being encouraged to attend YAF and Turning Point USA events.
A calendar posted on the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer listed D'Souza's Nov. 12 speech at Penn as an event that readers were encouraged to attend.
MacCarthy did not address questions about whether the University was aware of neo-Nazis planning to attend D'Souza's event.
D'Souza said he was aware of neo-Nazis showing up to Ben Shapiro events, but said their presence did not worry him.
"I am aware that there are some kind of extremist groups associated with this fellow, Fuentes, that have been showing up at a couple of the Turning Point events with a view to embarrass the speakers," D'Souza said. "My impression is that these groups are very marginal, that even in the cases where they have tried to show up at the events, all they do is ask questions that are aimed at embarrassing the speaker."
Representatives from YAF said Penn administrators were treating conservatives differently by relocating the event and closing it to the public.
"The administrators believed that having the event in the school’s cultural center would increase the likelihood of disruption of the event," Kara Zupkus, YAF program assistant for public relations, wrote in an email to the DP. "They also thought that having the event open to the public would apparently raise the risk of disruption."
Penn's three cultural centers — the Pan-Asian American Community House, Makuu, and La Casa Latina — are all located in the basement of the ARCH building.
Zupkus did not address whether YAF was aware of the threat of neo-Nazis attending the event.
Zupkus said Penn administrators Tamara King — associate vice provost for student affairs — and Katie Bonner — executive director of the Office of Student Affairs — were present for this meeting. Representatives for the Vice Provost of University Life did not reply to immediate request for comment.
In the buildup to D'Souza's event, some students labeled the right-wing pundit a troll, and his critics have long labeled him a provocateur.
In a way, D'Souza said, they are right.
"I'm more of a provocateur on Twitter than I am in my speeches. Why? Because that's the nature of the medium," D'Souza said. "Twitter is sort of the intellectual Wild West."
The University’s decision to call off the event in the ARCH building was "sudden and unexpected," Wharton sophomore and College Republicans Communications Director Corey Paredes wrote in an email to the DP.