Sean Spicer speaks at Fine Arts Center as guest of UMass College Republicans

Roughly 1, 200 people attended the event


(Will Katcher/Daily Collegian)

By Kyle DaLuz, Collegian Staff

About 1,200 students and members of the surrounding Amherst community attended former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s talk, hosted by the University of Massachusetts College Republicans on Tuesday evening at the Fine Arts Center Concert Hall.

Spicer spent the majority of his hour-long talk reflecting on his life, career in politics and his new book, “The Briefing: Politics, the Press and the President;” but his question and answer session that followed was not as smooth. A group of about seven college-age protestors sang in unison when Spicer attempted to answer questions. He offered one protester in particular to come up on the stage to speak after the protestor asked why white supremacists were allowed in the White House, but the man declined.

“If you want to have a civil and respectful discussion, I’m here. I’m staying,” Spicer said. When the protestor shouted that he doesn’t support platforms for “fascist white supremacists,” Spicer responded, “Neither do I. So we agree.”

Spicer added: “When you’re the ones getting booed on a college campus and I’m not, that tells you something.”

The few questions the audience did manage to ask centered around Spicer’s time in the White House working for President Trump. Of his most famous gaffes during his six months as Trump’s press secretary, Spicer claimed Trump’s inauguration crowd was the largest in United States history, despite clear photographic evidence against such claims.

“There is no question in my mind that that was not my finest day,” he said. “Could I have done things differently? Absolutely. It was our first day. We were trying to counter a narrative, and I don’t think we did it well. I take responsibility for that.”

He added he was proud of his time as President Trump’s press secretary, and that he did not regret working at the White House.

Before the moderator could ask another question, another protestor shouted that Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the current press secretary, have disrespected the press room at the White House. Spicer disagreed.

“The First Amendment gives every member of the press the ability and right to publish and write what they want, but I think it also gives each one of us the right to say and express ourselves,” Spicer said. “Frankly, if you go back and look at the journalist bill of rights, they actually invite criticism in their own profession. I think that’s what makes it right. You can’t just say, ‘Because I’m a journalist, I get to write what I want without any sense of criticism.’ That’s part of the process.”

Spicer claimed the biggest problem plaguing the country today is the demonization of political parties on both sides of the aisle.

“I am a passionate, committed, conservative Republican. I have worked very closely with both sides of the aisle,” Spicer said. “I think the problem with this country right now is that we demonize both sides. If you are a Trump supporter, you are the following. If you are a Hillary supporter, you are the following.

“Where we are missing the boat is where we demonize each other.”

A Connecticut College graduate, Spicer began working volunteering for political campaigns just after his senior year. Spicer helped a Connecticut Republican campaign in 1994 that lost by just two votes, something the former press secretary said motivated him to improve his craft. Spicer worked for President George W. Bush as a United States trade representative for three years before working for the Republican National Committee and former head of the party Reince Priebus during the 2012, 2014 and 2016 elections.

“If I went into [tonight] knowing absolutely nothing about Sean Spicer, I would’ve been like, ‘[he’s] not a bad guy,’” freshman psychology and legal studies major Danielle Reardon said. “Having watched everything from 2016-on, I find it hard to believe a lot of what he says, which was consistent with what I thought in 2016 as well.”

After working with Priebus to help Trump throughout the 2016 election, Spicer said he was surprised to be offered the position of press secretary after Trump’s victory, claiming he’d only spoken to the president about the job in “one-off conversations.”

Rachel Ellis, a sophomore political science major who identified herself as a moderate Democrat, went to Spicer’s talk to hear a different perspective than her own.

“UMass is really a hub for liberal conversation, and not so much for conservative conversation,” she said. “I was looking for another view tonight. I was excited to come here and see that and also support many of my friends who have worked on this project. I really appreciated how Sean Spicer came to our campus and spoke to the students as well as wanted to receive questions from students in the audience.”

Kyle DaLuz can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Kyle_DaLuz.