No, we don’t have to listen to Heather Mac Donald’s perspective

John Davidian, Contributing Writer

On Nov. 14, political commentator Heather Mac Donald, who currently serves as a Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, will come to the University. Her visit will be sponsored by the Bucknell Program for American Leadership and Citizenship (BPALC), a program run by a group of faculty members from various academic departments that receive funding directly from the Office of the President. In the name of “free speech” and “viewpoint diversity,” two stated values of BPALC, I’d like to offer my own thoughts.

If I had a nickel for every time in the last month I’ve heard someone say something along the lines of, “We have to consider all perspectives,” or “I don’t agree with Mac Donald’s views, but I think it’s important that we listen to her,” I would have a decent amount of change. But we don’t have to listen to her.

Mac Donald has made a name for herself for her bombastic, ahistorical commentary on police brutality, sexual assault, diversity measures, and racial equity work on college campuses, as well as a litany of other politically and socially prescient issues. Due to space constraints, this article focuses only on structural racism on college campuses. If you have time, listen to the beginning of her recent Fox News interview, in which she talks about sexual assault and what she calls “the preposterous mantra to believe survivors” and “the campus rape hysteria.”

Something else Mac Donald alludes to in said interview is her take on race. After being asked when colleges got so liberal, she responds, “the 80s . . . that’s when you got radical multiculturalism that hit.” Starting around this time, Mac Donald alleges — with no evidence — that “students were given a license for ignorance” so that they could “go and wallow in their own delusional oppression.”

She makes a similar point in a recent article published in the City Journal. In the piece, she offers a long-winded critique of Georgetown University’s efforts to address racial injustice on its campus. Mac Donald writes, “there are no . . . institutional barriers to student success at Georgetown. The university, like every other American college today, is committed to minority advancement; it offers boundless opportunities to all its members on a color- and sex-blind basis. The only barriers to student success are the result of Georgetown’s own diversity policies.”

Obviously, Mac Donald’s rejection of racial inequality flies in the face of decades of sociological, economic and historical research, which reveals that vast racial discrepancies persist across American society. And she suggests that because policies and institutions are “color- and sex-blind,” that they can’t be racist or sexist. In recent years, however, academics have widely debunked the idea that “colorblindness” is somehow antithetical to racism. As Michelle Alexander points out in “The New Jim Crow,” “our collective colorblindness . . . prevents us from seeing the racial and structural divisions that persist in society . . . We have become blind, not so much to race, but to the existence of racial caste.” Yet Mac Donald still holds fast to this absurd notion that racism on college campuses such as Georgetown is not real, simply because the school enrolls students of color.  And then we are told that hers is a perspective that we need to consider and evaluate against real, serious scholarship.

So, what is the function of inviting a speaker like Mac Donald to our campus? Ultimately, it is meant to forestall necessary conversations around racial equity, liberation and the pursuit of real justice by muddying the waters and creating this ahistorical “debate” about the validity of a historically grounded premise. Instead of having scholarly, academic conversations about how to dismantle structural racism, Mac Donald and her enablers force this elementary conversation about whether structural racism even exists.

We need to be comfortable not giving oxygen to the sort of lazy, anti-intellectual commentary that Mac Donald espouses. To reject decades of scholarship and academic research in the name of “viewpoint diversity” is ahistorical and deeply violent, and goes against our aims as a university. This wedge of “free speech,” used here to amplify plain hate speech, does nothing to promote serious conversation and debate while doing everything to attack students of color, survivors of sexual assault, and others who will be targeted by Mac Donald’s visit. I’d like to think our institution is better than this.

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