Hampshire College cancels speech by gun rights advocate

  • Antonia Okafor, an advocate for concealed carry on campus. Submitted photo

Thursday, December 07, 2017

AMHERST — Hampshire College canceled an event with a women’s empowerment and gun rights advocate Wednesday night, a last-minute decision that rankled both the speaker and the group that brought her to campus.

“What really happened is this,” wrote Antonia Okafor on Facebook. “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 tonight.”

Okafor is an advocate for concealed carry on college campuses. She founded EmPOWERed, a movement of women on college campuses who feel empowered to use a gun for self-defense.

The college disagreed with Okafor’s take.

“We did not cancel the speech because of the speaker, the subject of the speech, or the content,” spokesman John Courtmanche said in a statement. “Hampshire College values academic freedom and the careful examination of ideas, including when those ideas may be controversial.”

Courtmanche said the college canceled the event when officials realized that Junoon: South Asian and International Students Association, the student group sponsoring the event, submitted an insufficient application.

“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,” Courtmanche said.

The college apologized and Courtmanche said officials would reach out to Okafor to reschedule.

Okafor, meanwhile, is scheduled to speak as part of a campus tour at Mount Holyoke College Thursday at 7 p.m. in Cleveland L-2. On Friday, she’s scheduled to speak at Harvard University.

Rahim Hirani, president of the South Asian and International Students Association, said the group scheduled the event less than a week ago and it was approved on Monday.

Along with cultural and ethnic events, Hirani said the group organizes events based on public interest and controversies.

For Okafor’s talk, Hirani said he put up dozens of fliers around campus to spread the word. But a few hours before the event, Hirani received an email that there was not a full description of the presenter and her background. The email also said that with a controversial subject like the Second Amendment, extra considerations and precautions need to be put in place which cannot be done on a short notice.

Okafor responded to Hampshire College’s statement and apology Wednesday night on Facebook stating that Hirani regularly hosts events on campus and knows exactly how to fill out the application.

Okafor, a graduate student at the University of Texas in Dallas, grew up in a liberal household and her family did not own guns. She said she’s had her license to carry since 2016.

“For a long time guns were scary,” she said. “I understand people’s fear for it.”

Okafor said she was sexually assaulted when she was young. She didn’t go into detail with the Gazette, but the moment impacted her and she fights to prevent assaults from happening — specifically on college campuses.

She advocated concealed weapons on campus in Texas, a legislation known as “campus carry,” which was passed in 2015.

She advocates for not only guns to be allowed on campus, but other tools for self-defense like pepper spray and stun guns. Along with firearms, Hampshire College and Mount Holyoke College do not allow pepper spray, tasers, stun guns and most knives on campus.

Okafor launched her campus tour in October funded by the Leadership Institute, an organization that supports the conservative movement. So far she’s been to University of Massachusetts Amherst and Yale Law School, as well as a few other schools across the United States. She said she’s booked through the spring.

Kassy Dillon, president of Mount Holyoke College Republicans, said 200 fliers for Thursday’s event have been ripped down and a counter-discussion has been scheduled, but many people in the community are interested.

“We’re expecting a full house,” Dillon said.

 Editor’s Note: This story was updated at noon Thursday to correct the dateline.