Conservative filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza mocked a small group of students silently protesting his talk at Houston Hall Tuesday evening.
D'Souza's event, hosted by Penn College Republicans, was thrown into turmoil last week after the University abruptly blocked the event from taking place in the ARCH building, citing unnamed security concerns. Days later, Penn relocated the event to Houston and restricted the event to PennCard holders.
At the event, a group of 20 student protesters stood in the back and silently held signs that read “Deport Fascism,” “No one is illegal on stolen land,” and “Multiculturalism is America.”
From the start, D'Souza addressed the protesters' presence, mocking them for their silence and labeling their protest "unworthy of an Ivy League college."
"Let's do a silent protest. That way, we won't have to answer what he says, and yet, people will think we're smart too," D'Souza said of the protesters. "In the spirit of discussion, I invite the protesters to participate."
Despite objecting to D'Souza's views, the goal of the protest was not to shut the event down, Penn Asian American Pacific Islander Politics Director and College sophomore Amira Chowdhury said. Last month, student protesters shut down a Perry World House event featuring former United States Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Thomas Homan with loud chants. Last week, protesters from Fossil Free Penn shut down a Penn Board of Trustees meeting at the Inn at Penn, demanding that the University divest from fossil fuels.
The protests at D'Souza's event on Tuesday were organized by Penn AAPI Politics and included members of Makuu, La Casa Latina, Penn for Immigrant Rights, and other groups, Chowdhury said.
D'Souza also called Penn students hypocritical for going to a university with a selective admissions process while supporting a lenient immigration policy.
"The University of Pennsylvania has a taller wall than any wall [President Donald] Trump wants to build," D'Souza said of Penn's admissions practices. "All of you in this room are completely in favor of [this wall]. I don't see anyone ever protesting this wall."
The event, hosted by College Republicans and the Young America's Foundation, was billed as "A Legal Immigrant's Case Against Multiculturalism." After arguing for tougher immigration policies and mocking liberal critics, D'Souza proceeded to answer audience questions, many of which came from students protesting his appearance and challenging his past statements.
One student protester confronted D'Souza in the Q&A section about controversial actions he allegedly undertook while editing The Dartmouth Review — specifically, outing LGBTQ students and publishing allegedly racist articles.
"The descriptions of these are all flat-out wrong," D'Souza said in response. "This is a classic case of a smear because a smear can be circulated without me being there."
While D'Souza also said the fact that immigrants come to the United States over other countries proves that all cultures are not equal.
"The cardinal doctrine of multiculturalism [is that] no culture [is] better or worse, superior or inferior, to any other. All cultures are equal," D'Souza said. "Everything in my own experience knows that this doctrine is a lie."
Chowdhury labeled D'Souza a "conservative troll," and said the group is protesting D'Souza in large part because of his history of controversial comments on race and other social issues.
"These [comments] deny the humanity, and systematically and vocally deny the humanity of people in the country and people in this school," Chowdhury said. "His history of attacking folks of historically undervalued identities denies the humanity of those people: immigrants, women, LGBT folks, and such."
Chowdhury singled out comments the filmmaker has made in the past, including a claim that American slaves were treated "pretty well," his blaming of the 9/11 attacks in part on the LGBTQ community, and his assertion that former President Barack Obama was from the "ghetto."
Chowdhury also criticized the initial choice of the ARCH building as the location of D'Souza's talk, given its status as the home of the multicultural centers Makuu, Pan-Asian American Community House, and La Casa Latina.
"In the basement are all of the multicultural centers," she said. "That speaks volumes to the optics of what this event is about."
The event was not the first time the conservative commentator had faced protesters on an Ivy League campus. In February, the filmmaker was confronted by a protest at Dartmouth University, his alma mater, with students attempting to disrupt his speech and holding up signs critical of him.