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U of U sends staff to Berkeley protests ahead of Ben Shapiro’s speech in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY -- The University of Utah sent staff to California to watch protests at University of California Berkeley Thursday night to get an idea about what could unfold on their campus in just over a week.

The protests sprang out against Ben Shapiro, a conservative political commentator and radio talk show host. He spoke at UC Berkeley Thursday evening and is scheduled to speak at the University of Utah on September 27.

Talking with Fox 13 via FaceTime, Communications Director for the University of Utah Chris Nelson showed the police presence, the people waiting in line for Shapiro, and the protests.

“We’re just kind of observing,” he said, as he walked around the shut-down streets.

He said the Dean of Students, members of the communication team and representatives from University Police went on the trip. They spent the day meeting with law enforcement and administration at UC Berkeley.

“What we’re really watching is to see the logistics of it,” he said of the protest and the speech event.

They took notes, and he said they’re already picking up some lessons.

“One of the things we're learning down here is they did a really good job of controlling access to the speakers, the venue for the speech,” Nelson said. “I think that's something we'll be able to take away, and make sure the different parts of campus are secure.”

The U of U already saw opposition to the planned Shapiro speech earlier this week, when protesters picketed on campus. Those protesters say Shapiro spews hate speech and the event should be canceled.

Nelson said more protests are planned for the day Shapiro speaks. That’s why being in California, he said, will help them figure out how to balance the right to free speech and upholding safety.

“We want to make sure that when Mr. Shapiro comes to our campus, that we create a safe space for our students,” he said.

Nelson noted that the student organization Young Americans for Freedom—not the University of Utah—is hosting the Ben Shapiro event.