More than 100 students protested against Heather Mac Donald, a conservative activist who spoke at Penn against institutional efforts to promote diversity and inclusion.
During the event on Feb. 7, which was hosted by The Statesman, Mac Donald contended that there were no racist professors at Penn and dismissed a student account of grading discrimination among professors. She also defended differences in societal gender roles.
The silent protest on Thursday was staged by Penn Association for Gender Equity, Asian Pacific Student Coalition, Lambda Alliance, United Minorities Council, and Muslim Students Association. Forming a corridor and lining the walls of a Penn lecture hall, the students held signs that praised diversity and denounced racism, with slogans including "Diversity = 21st century. Join us!" and "Beauty Tip: don't be a white supremacist."
Inside the lecture hall, dozens of students in the black community at Penn wore black clothing to show unity as they sat and listened in a separate protest of Mac Donald. College junior Nadiyah Browning is co-chair of UMOJA, but helped organize the community as an individual. She said although the protest was not organized by any black student groups, the protest was a powerful statement from Penn’s black community.
The Statesman, a conservative group on campus, invited Mac Donald to speak about her book, "The Diversity Delusion." Mac Donald previously spoke at Penn Law in September 2017, when she criticized the Black Lives Matter movement amid student protests and condemned Penn's response to Penn Law School professor Amy Wax’s controversial op-ed on "bourgeois culture."
In a joint statement released prior to the event, PAGE, APSC, Lambda, UMC, and MSA criticized Mac Donald’s rhetoric as “hateful.”
“She views identity politics as poisonous and demonizes any focus on diversity, invalidating the thousands of minority students at Penn. She has actively promoted slut-shaming survivors following the #MeToo Movement. She has expressed clear Islamophobia and advocates proudly for racial profiling," the statement read. "She has criticized the Black Lives Matter movement and has popularized the untrue myth of the Ferguson effect, that action against racially-motivated police brutality has caused an increase in violent crime.”
During her speech, Mac Donald criticized the focus on diversity in colleges, both in admissions and in curriculum. She rallied against affirmative action for preferring “diverse candidates” over “the most qualified.” Mac Donald also criticized “safe spaces” and promoted a humanistic education, adding that identity politics get in the way of learning about other people's experiences.
Centering in on Penn, Mac Donald said the removal of a Shakespeare portrait from Fisher-Bennett Hall in 2016 was an example of students unfairly targeting white males.
“Administrators and many professors encourage students to see everything through the lens of identity politics,” Mac Donald said.
UMC President and College sophomore Kevin Zhou, who helped organize the protest led by the minority groups, said protestors wanted to be respectful of Mac Donald’s time, choosing to have a silent protest and not disrupt the event.
“We wanted to just show her our opinion and our perspective on the issues,” Zhou said.
After 20 minutes, The Statesman opened up the floor for questions for the next hour. Students asked Mac Donald questions that led to her defending her assertions on race, gender, and campus culture.
In response to student questions, Mac Donald said she believed there were no racist professors at Penn, which caused students in attendance to laugh. When a student told her that they were discriminated against because they were queer, she dismissed their claim.
“You think your professors changed your grade because you were gay? I’ll admit, I’m going to be honest with you, I’m very skeptical," she said.
During the Q&A, Mac Donald said she believed men and women had “different preferences and inclinations” that led them to different types of work. She also said Western students should emulate what she referred to as the “Asian academic obsession” in their academic culture, which students in turn called a “stereotype” and “racist.”
“The Asians are now leaving the Jews in the dust” in terms of academic achievement, Mac Donald said.
“We fully support the right of students to voice that they might not be happy with her,” Statesman President and College junior Sydney Gwynn said. “But we also support her ability to speak.”
Students protesting outside the event said security would not let students in after it had begun.
Chandni Shah, College freshman and marketing chair of PAGE, said security at the event door told students that the event was over capacity, but said they admitted members of The Statesman.
Mac Donald told The Daily Pennsylvanian after the event that she was not racist nor had she slut-shamed women in the past. She added that she thought the conversation was productive.
“I don’t know how often they hear views like mine, but I think the questions were intelligent and worth considering,” Mac Donald said.
Zhou and Browning both said that they had accomplished their goals for protesting the event.
“I’m more so happy to see that for our community — not even trying to prove something to The Statesman or to Heather Mac Donald — but it’s just knowing on our end that we can do something powerful like that and act accordingly was super important in my eyes,” Browning said, “to make sure that everybody can see that we can make a statement, and we can do it effectively.”