UCF students and community members attended the UCF Student Government Senate meeting on Feb. 6 to protest the use of students' tuition funds to bring Ben Shapiro to campus in March. Photo by Cierra Ward.

UCF Student Government’s Senate meeting Thursday filled the Key West Ballroom in UCF’s Student Union with individuals who disagreed with the use of student funds to bring political commentator Ben Shapiro to the university.

Shapiro — a conservative speaker who defends free speech and open debate, according to Young America’s Foundation’s website — is also known for homophobic and racist commentary, according to a UCF Pride Student Association’s Instagram post.

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The College Republicans at UCF announced the event in January. The organization partnered with Young America’s Foundation, which sponsors Shapiro.

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The College Republicans asked the Student Government Senate to use at least $17,000 of students’ activity and service fees. College Republican members said some of the funds have been raised by the organization.

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While some students said they want to see Shapiro on campus, others said they do not think he should be brought here with the student body’s money.

Former Student Government Senator Karen Caudillo said while she does support free speech, she thinks that the organization shouldn’t be asking for students to pay for it.

“The RSO should have to fundraise for this or to ask whoever is already donating the funds to donate the other half,” Caudillo said. 

Caudillo also says Shapiro’s presence on campus will be problematic for students and could “throw the campus out of the loop.” 

College Republicans Vice Chairman Didi Malka said it costs $35,000 to bring Shapiro to campus, and Young America’s Foundation has committed $17,500.

Malka said the College Republicans asked UCF SG for the remaining $17,500.

A Young America’s Foundation website dedicated to Shapiro states the organization will cover most of Shapiro’s fees, as long as a few needs are met.

“Young America’s Foundation can cover a substantial portion of Ben’s fee,” according to its website. “However, we do require that we are the sole national sponsor of Ben’s campus events.” 

It is not immediately known the details of the organization’s role or the Young American’s Foundation planned to contribute to the event. 

College Democrats Director of Public Affairs Shahaan Khan said the organization feels the College Republicans are asking a steep price for a speaker who does not embody the core values of this university.

“Student funds are better allocated for beneficial educational experiences and not for a speaker whose main focus for visiting campus is personal enrichment,” Khan said.

Although some students said they felt they did not want their money spent on this bill, other students feel that bringing Shapiro here will give students who oppose him a learning experience.

College Republicans member Andrew Porter said he feels that although some students may think the use of their money does not benefit them in any way, they can still learn something from Shapiro.

“It’s not money being spent for only a certain amount of people, it’s money being spent that provides an opportunity for everybody to get something out of it,” Porter said.

Porter also said even though he does not agree with everything Shapiro says, he thinks students should confront him at the event.

“I wouldn’t want to exclude him from coming,” Porter said. “I would rather him come and then any tough questions that we have, let him have it and see how he responds.”

Some students said the UCF Student Government Senate would be doing a disservice to the student body by allowing Shapiro to come here using student funds. 

Members of UCF’s Student Government expressed they represent the student body during the senate meeting — it was reiterated SG listens when students voice concerns and keep their best interests in mind. 

External Legislative Assistant of SG Connor Grodi said UCF SG does not freely allocate funds, but said there are strategic steps in place to ensure money is well spent.

“[The money allocation] is based on the RSO and what they’re requesting. [The SG Senate] is very strict on what we’re spending the money on and what we’re giving the money to.”

When a Registered Student Organization requests more than $1,500, the request goes through a senate bill rather than a committee allocation, according to the SG website. A senator will write a bill and submit it to the Speaker of the Senate for placement on first reading of the senate’s next agenda.

The vote on the bill was unfavorable with a count of 16-17-1. The bill will be seen on the senate floor next week to determine if it will pass or not.

Grodi said he encourages students to come out to the UCF SG Senate meetings and voice their opinions. Meetings are held every Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Key West Ballroom.

Knight News Editor-in-Chief Megan Turner contributed to this story.

This article has been updated with comments from the College Democrats, College Republicans and new information about funding. Additional attribution has been included regarding the source of Ben Shapiro’s commentary.