Conservative author and political commentator Heather Mac Donald met resistance and reproach on Tuesday after she stepped foot on campus to discuss the “diversity delusion” in higher education.
Mac Donald spoke to a crowd of 120 students in White Hall about the controversial opinions in her book “The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture.” She explained that while students come from a variety of backgrounds, everyone is “equal” once they come to college and that minority students are “taught to think of themselves as victims and to see bigotry where none exists.”
“Any student who thinks of himself as oppressed on a college campus is in the grip of a terrible delusion,” Mac Donald said. “There has never been an environment more tolerant towards history’s traditionally marginalized groups than a college campus.”
Simultaneously, downstairs, a group of more than 80 students, faculty and staff members crowded into a lecture hall to watch a livestream of Mac Donald’s remarks. This event, hosted by Emory NAACP, the Caucus of Emory Black Alumni (CEBA) and Recognizing, Empowering and Affirming Latinas Conference, was advertised as “a safe space for students to be able to express their reaction to what Heather Mac Donald has to say.”
CEBA President Natalie Gullatt (11C), who helped organize the response event, emphasized the need for an environment for individuals affected by Mac Donald’s inflammatory remarks. Gullatt said that the two events were held at the same time to reduce attendance at Mac Donald’s lecture.
“We don’t want to give her any type of ammunition or any type of way to use anything that’s done tonight to help propel her message,” Gullatt said.
Mac Donald’s lecture was hosted by Emory College Republicans and the Emory Law Chapter of the Federalist Society and funded by Marvin Schwartz, namesake for the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts and a prominent University donor.
“I’m interested in seeing diverse opinions on all campuses,” Schwartz told the Wheel in an interview after the event. “Since Emory is the one I am closest to, I thought I would like to invite a speaker of great renown on the conservative side to address the student body.”
Mac Donald lamented “racial preferences” in college admissions and criticized minority groups for claiming that their lives can be at risk on campus. She also cited prominent civil rights leaders Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. as indicators that freedom of expression is necessary, invoking groans from the crowd.
“I’m going to say something radical: this costly anti-bias effort is unnecessary,” she said. “Emory is already a paragon of equity and justice.”
After roughly 20 minutes of introductory remarks, Mac Donald took pre-selected questions on subjects ranging from inequality in public schools to food insecurity. She advocated for color-blind admissions, arguing that students admitted for the sake of diversity are unprepared for the institutions they attend.
In addition to discussions on race, Mac Donald criticized initiatives that aim to increase the number of women in certain environments, saying, “I have gone through life undoubtedly as the beneficiary of gender politics.”
The only remark Mac Donald made that received widespread applause from the audience was that she’d be “happy” to remove legacy student admissions.
However, positive sentiments in the room dramatically shifted when the subject turned to another of Mac Donald’s highly controversial beliefs: that “rape culture” is a myth that results from women regretting sexual encounters.
“The vast majority of what is called campus rape [are] voluntary hookups,” Mac Donald said to gasps and protests across the room. “Are girls so uninformed that they are deliberately walking into rape culture, or is this exaggerated? I believe that females have agency [and] that females have the power to determine the outcome of most interactions.”
On Monday night, College Council (CC) Chief of Staff Alex Chanen (21B) filed a petition to CC’s Office of Organization Management requesting an investigation into the College Republicans on the grounds that they violated the Student Government Association Constitution.
According to Chanen, the event violated “right of freedom from discrimination by any student organization.” The petition was unanimously dismissed because Mac Donald’s appearance was not funded by the Student Activity Fee, according to a statement issued by CC.
Jocelyn Stanfield (20C), an attendee of the response event, was among the first to speak out against Mac Donald’s visit and contacted the University to cancel the event, who cited their free expression policy in defense. She believes that the administration should have done more to assist minority communities by “reaching out and making sure [they] feel supported.”
“A lot of minorities already don’t feel comfortable in an all-white space or a white-majority environment,” Stanfield said. “We just want them to know that they have a voice here, and the majority of the students on campus disagree with what Heather Mac Donald is proclaiming.”
Gullatt turned off the livestream at around 7:40 p.m., 20 minutes before Mac Donald completed her speech. Attorney Gerald Griggs (98Ox, 00C) then addressed the crowd, commending the community for not interrupting Mac Donald’s event and suggesting that everyone organize a future peaceful demonstration.
“Here at Emory, we believe in being open to everyone’s freedom of expression,” Griggs said. “But we also believe in the fundamental belief that we are all equal.”
When the meeting formally disbanded, many students remained in the room to plan a coordinated response.
“It’s a good opportunity to plan a program of how we address this situation going forward,” said Emory NAACP President Timothy Richmond (20C). “There’s more of us, and we’re stronger together united.”
After the event, Mac Donald told the Wheel that her experience at Emory was “better than some schools,” despite a few disruptions during her speech. She emphasized that she was “speaking from a position of empirical truth” and advised critics to read her book.
“It was obviously a very energized crowd,” she said. “They felt very strongly that I was uninformed and uneducated, but … people are obviously very impassioned about these topics.”
Toure Jones (21C) attended Mac Donald’s speech in person and thought that her beliefs were unjustified, saying that Mac Donald attacked marginalized communities and her arguments had “no factual basis.”
“Every time someone asked her to back her things up, she started stuttering, started stammering,” Jones said. “The fact that Emory students were still clapping for her after all those terrible and mind-boggling statements is honestly amazing to me. I’m going to definitely look at this campus differently now.”
College Republicans Treasurer and Events Coordinator Emmet McGeown (22C) called the event “interesting,” saying that it “allowed a conversation to take place on a very important topic that needs to be discussed.”
“It’s impossible to agree with everything any individual said,” McGeown said. “By hosting this event, College Republicans enabled people who were offended by her remarks … to directly question her and directly tell her how they felt.”
While McGeown said College Republicans did not intend to make anyone feel “unsafe or uncomfortable,” he believes inviting Mac Donald was valuable in promoting dialogue on Emory’s campus.
“Sponsoring an event for a speaker isn’t a full-blown endorsement of that speaker. [It’s] simply a full-blown endorsement of free speech,” he said. “Just because I don’t agree with everything she says doesn’t mean I think she shouldn’t be allowed to say it.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that a response event to Mac Donald’s lecture was co-hosted by the Rollins Earn and Learn (REAL) program. In fact, it was co-hosted by the Recognizing, Empowering and Affirming Latinas (REAL) Conference.