Emory students have seen a fair share of conservative provocateurs in recent years. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that Heather Mac Donald’s controversial speech, delivered on Jan. 28, incited well-deserved anger and dissent across the Emory community. We commend Emory students for their tactful responses to the highly contentious speaker, especially because Mac Donald intended to inflame and provoke rather than engage in substantive discussion.
Although Mac Donald’s speech disrupted the student body, the Emory community turned it into an opportunity for growth. Students protested peacefully, and multiple organizations voiced their support for marginalized communities. No violence occurred as a result of the event and students did not harass Mac Donald during or after her remarks.
Emory’s NAACP chapter, along with other black and Latinx campus groups, organized a livestream during Mac Donald’s speech to provide students with an alternative space to hear her comments. The Young Democrats of Emory organized a response event in which they specifically addressed the questionable claims in Mac Donald’s speech. Sexual Assault Peer Advocates (SAPA) and the Survivor’s Anthology released a joint newsletter expressing solidarity with survivors of sexual assault.
As a student body, we should continue to transform events like this into opportunities to find renewed meaning in higher education. Inflammatory rhetoric exposes us to the harsh realities of political discourse and teaches us how to respond. Ultimately, we can choose how we react to the dilemma that many universities face when radical conservatives speak on campus.
In the case of Mac Donald, she used hurtful language only meant to incite anger. She claimed that both affirmative action and legacy admissions destroy the fabric of higher education. She also spoke about campus sexual assault, arguing that “the vast majority of what is called campus rape [are] voluntary hookups,” causing one student to storm out of the room in disgust.
Mac Donald’s words were a slew of racism and sexism disguised under a thin veil of academia. Her regressive ideology revealed more subtle forms of oppression that exist even on progressive college campuses like Emory. Mac Donald’s speech was a reminder that despite clear evidence showing challenges that students of color face, many people continue to pretend such bias doesn’t exist. Ironically, Mac Donald’s nonfactual allegations and harmful rhetoric exposed the need for more nuanced policies that support inclusion.
It was clear that Mac Donald had no intention of starting a substantive discussion during her speech, given that the only opportunity for discussion during the event was from questions that were pre-selected. Nevertheless, the controversial event sparked dialogue between outraged Emory students.
In the future, clubs and organizers should ensure open Q&A sessions to all such events. Preselected questions do not allow students the opportunity to question speakers and challenge their views. College Republicans Treasurer and Events Coordinator Emmet McGeown (22C) claimed that the event “allowed a conversation to take place on a very important topic that needs to be discussed.” However, event organizers failed to provide an opportunity for open questions at the event, demonstrating their lack of commitment to any such conversation.
As a newspaper, we understand the importance of free speech and we call upon students to uphold the value of free speech, even in the face of divisive and bad faith arguments. Emory students must continue using rational discussion to address deliberate provocation. If not, we fail in our responsibility as a university to protect academic discourse.
The Editorial Board is composed of Zach Ball, Devin Bog, Jake Busch, Meredith McKelvey, Andrew Kliewer, Boris Niyonzima and Nick Pernas.