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Mackenzie Fierceton stands at a rally in support of Fierceton on Apr. 13, 2022. Credit: Kylie Cooper

Several Penn affiliates, including two senior administrators, gave depositions in 2021 School of Social Policy & Practice graduate and 2020 College graduate Mackenzie Fierceton’s lawsuit against the University in June and July. 

The five Penn administrators and professors who testified include Deputy Provost Beth Winkelstein, who is named as a defendant in the case, and former interim President Wendell Pritchett. The depositions occurred between June 7 and July 17, according to a court order from May 3.

A request for comment from the University was left with spokesperson Ron Ozio.

In her initial lawsuit, Fierceton alleged a connection between her efforts to determine whether the 2018 death of Cameron Avant Driver, an SP2 graduate student, was the result of inadequate accessibility in campus buildings, and the University’s investigation into her background. The lawsuit also pushed back against the investigation, which focused on Fierceton’s first-generation, low-income status, and asserted that the University aimed to discredit her in an investigation led by the Rhodes Scholar Foundation. 

In an interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian, Fierceton described the deposition process as “exhausting but validating.”

“There have been moments that have felt very much like pieces of accountability and justice along the way,” she said. “This is a justice system that usually yields in the favor of powerful institutions like Penn, and I’m glad that I’m able to use it to get questions answered and things on the record in a way that can bring a lot of what’s happened behind closed doors into the light.”

Fierceton herself gave the first deposition on June 7. Pritchett testified on June 9, and Winkelstein gave the last deposition to date on July 17, according to the document. 

Other Penn affiliates who testified include defendant Wendy White, the senior vice president and general counsel at Penn, and political science professors Anne Norton and Rogers Smith. Michael Hayes, who was the assistant prosecuting attorney in Fierceton’s 2019 charges of abuse against her mother, also testified. 

On June 12, a revised case management order was issued, stating that the discovery process will be extended to Nov. 6 from its original deadline of July 3. The revised order states that Fierceton has identified six additional witnesses, including three Penn affiliates, who may depose in the future. 

None of the lawyers involved in the case responded to a request for comment. 

When the discovery phase is finished, the parties will take part in a mandatory settlement conference, which is a required-by-law opportunity for the parties to resolve the case without trial. 

Fierceton said that she hopes other institutions will come to see her case as a “warning.”

“I hope [my case] is seen as an act of resistance,” Fierceton said. “These institutions take so much from us and use us to their advantage for promotion and marketing to build their billion-dollar empires and endowments. They need to remember that we’re also human beings, and we fight back.”