SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: October 12, 2023

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):Arizona State University

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On October 12, 2023, members of a Turning Point USA film crew followed, filmed, and harassed David Boyles, a writing instructor in Arizona State University’s (ASU) English Department, leading to a confrontation during which the cameraman injured Boyles.

Boyles has worked at ASU since 2015 as a graduate and writing instructor, with specializations in “popular culture, digital literacy, visual rhetoric and the rhetoric of higher education.” Turning Point USA, a rightwing nonprofit with a statement mission “to identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote freedom,” includes Boyles on its “professor watchlist.” The group describes the watchlist as including “professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” In addition to working at ASU, Boyles is also involved with Drag Story Hour Arizona, a group that seeks to bring inclusive storytelling to Arizona communities through online and in-person events. Boyles’ work with Drag Story Hour was the subject of an article published by Arizona Free News, which accused him of encouraging people to “plant pornographic LGBTQ+ banned books in local libraries.”

On October 12, two members of Turning Point USA – a reporter and camera person – waited for Boyles to leave the classroom where he was teaching a class on LGBTQ+ youth in pop culture and politics. A video posted by Turning Point USA shows the two following Boyle asking him questions such as when he “became obsessed with sex education” and how he became “attracted to minors.” Boyles did not answer their questions and attempted to leave, but the Turning Point crew continued to follow him. The video ends with Boyles coming towards the camera person, seemingly trying to grab the camera. Boyles later posted a video on social media showing his bloodied face and explaining he had tried to block the camera person from filming him.

Citing publicly available security footage, a police spokesperson reported that one of the Turning Point members had shoved Boyles to the ground, injuring him. After Boyles got up, the security footage shows that the Turning Point crew continued to follow him.

ASU’s president condemned the harassment by Turning Point USA, stating that he was astounded by what the “outrageous conduct” that had transpired, and that “the incident we’ve all now witnessed on the video shows Turning Point’s refusal to stop dangerous practices that result in both physical and mental harm to ASU faculty members, which they then apparently exploit for fundraising, social media clicks and financial gain.”

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the assault and harassment of a faculty member for exercising the right to academic freedom and free expression on matters within his area of professional expertise. Members of the public have a responsibility to refrain from interfering in the functioning of higher education. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, harassment intended to deter the teaching of disfavored subjects and the freedom of expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.