Political commentator Heather Mac Donald to speak on campus

Sam Rosenblatt, Editor-in-Chief

On Thursday, Nov. 14, author and political commentator Heather Mac Donald will speak at the University as part of the “Campus Politics and the Liberal Arts” speaker series. The event is sponsored by the Bucknell Program for American Leadership and Citizenship (BPALC). 

Mac Donald currently serves as the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. She is also a New York Times bestselling author and has written articles for a number of other publications. Her most recent book, “The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine our Culture,” was published in 2018. According to the Manhattan Institute, the book “argues that ideas first spread within higher education have undermined humanistic values, fueled intolerance, and widened divisions in our larger culture.” 

Professor of Sociology Alexander Riley, a faculty affiliate of BPALC, said that the organization decided to bring in Mac Donald in part because of her broad reach to students and the community. “We have a responsibility not only to be a resource to our students, obviously, but we want also to play a role in the community and have events that will be useful and meaningful and productive for people outside of Bucknell as well,” Riley said. “We’re looking forward to having a good-sized crowd and have people from both on and off campus and all over the place in terms of their politics and what they think about what Heather Mac Donald has to say.”

While students and faculty have shown mixed reactions to Mac Donald’s upcoming visit, some have demonstrated support for her regardless of whether they agree with her arguments. They note that Mac Donald is not the first controversial speaker to address students so far this semester. For instance, the University’s Humanities Center brought in Mark Bray, author of “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook,” to campus to speak in September. 

As a firm supporter of viewpoint diversity, I think it is essential that Bucknell brings in voices from both sides of the spectrum to foster debate. You cannot have a debate with only one view being represented on campus. Earlier in the semester when the Antifa speaker came, there was no pushback like this and the Antifa speaker is directly advocating for violence, which is worse,” Mickey Arce ’20 said. “I was uncomfortable with the Antifa speaker coming, but I did not engage in resistance to suppress his voice. I think that student reactions to Mac Donald are unfair, and it is a part of this larger trend to diminish and attack conservativism.”

On the other hand, some members of the University community have taken issue with Mac Donald’s visit, citing her remarks on rape culture and racial diversity as reasons for their opposition. For example, in the aftermath of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Mac Donald wrote that “According to the #BelieveSurvivors platform, the reason why most researcher-classified rape victims don’t report their rapes is because the reporting process is too anti-female and re-traumatizing. In fact, most researcher-classified rape victims don’t report because they don’t think what happened to them was serious enough to report — another conclusion inconceivable in the case of actual rape.” On race, some point to her recent comments about Georgetown University’s handling of diversity, such as that  “the only barriers to student success are the result of Georgetown’s own diversity policies” as problematic. 

Those opposing Mac Donald’s talk have demonstrated a variety of perspectives on the matter. “I have no issue inviting a right-wing speaker to this campus. I do have an issue inviting a speaker whose dangerous rhetoric goes against the kind of campus Bucknell allegedly seeks to shape — namely, one that is safe and inclusive to students of all identities and experiences. And I know, as a victim-survivor of sexual assault, I refuse to remain silent knowing members of my own community invited a speaker to this campus who rejects the existence of rape culture — who rejects the validity of my story and the story of so many others,” Lauren Ziolkowski ’20 said.

“It’s odd for the administration to pay with one hand for sexual assault training and provide counseling services and advocates for victims and then with the other hand pay for someone to come say sexual assault isn’t a problem on campus,” Professor of English Michael Drexler said.

Drexler’s response reflects the mixed reactions that some have shown to the funding itself for Mac Donald’s appearance. Associate Professor of Political Science Chris Ellis, one of the BPALC’s faculty affiliates, notes that the funding for Mac Donald’s visit and other events in the “Campus Politics and the Liberal Arts” speaker series “comes from the President’s Fund, which as I understand it is a pot of funds allocated or donated directly to the President’s Office, to be used at the discretion of the President.” According to Ellis, this philanthropic fund goes to a wide variety of causes, from student playoff basketball tickets to financial support for faculty research. 

Some argue that the Office of the President should not be playing its current role in helping to fund the event. “I don’t see how her presence here makes campus better,” Drexler said. “But if there are people who wish to give her a platform, let them take responsibility for paying for it themselves. And don’t expect the campus not to react negatively.”

Bess Murad ’21 echoed these sentiments. “I believe deeply in free speech on college campuses as well as the value of viewpoint diversity, but I think the viewpoint that Heather Mac Donald is presenting is an unacceptable view considering the University’s funding of her visit. The University’s sponsorship of Heather Mac Donald is the sponsorship of beliefs that go against core values of our University and beliefs that can endanger the ability for many women and minorities to feel safe on this campus,” she said.

Supporters of Mac Donald’s talk argue that those in opposition should attend the event, both to affirm their own opinions and challenge those held by Mac Donald. “I think there’s more to be said about the students that come to the event,” Isabella Carrega ’22, one of the BPALC’s student associates, said. “Even if her opinion or her response or viewpoint is still not congruent with that of your own, you’re at least hearing the opinion firsthand and finding ways to go about bettering your own argument because you’re listening to someone [who disagrees with you].” 

“If I could wave a magic wand tomorrow and have this campus be changed in one fundamental way, it’d be in that sense. It’d be to say that everyone, from faculty all the way down to students and everybody else on campus would recognize that we’ve all got a responsibility to be informed and to be measured and to be mutually respectful and civil when we have disagreements rather than to have immediate snap judgments and opinions about things that we don’t know anything about,” Riley said.

“It is certainly not wrong, problematic, or outside the mission of the university that Heather Mac Donald will be giving a talk next week,” John Angileri ’20 said. “Though I don’t agree with her, I will be going to the talk. I feel that critical analysis and conversation is more beneficial than shouting down, shunning, or ignoring in just about every scenario.” 

Despite calls for civility and for listening to Mac Donald’s perspective regardless of one’s opinions, some students do not want to engage with the event. “Heather Mac Donald is an incredibly divisive provocateur. Her sensationalized articles threaten marginalized groups by turning issues of equality and equity into a zero-sum game in which there are only winners and losers,” Otis Skitch ’22 said. “This rhetoric turns the struggle for equality into a tribalistic fight rather than a liberation where we all benefit.” 

Arce suggests that a lack of intellectual diversity at the University undermines conservative viewpoints. “Liberal students on this campus should learn more about conservatives and their worldview before diminishing and suppressing it,” Arce said. 

Murad, on the other hand, said, “I will not be in attendance but rather attending the alternate event hosted by Speak UP in order to stand with victims of sexual assault on this campus rather than empowering somebody who is victim-blaming them.” This event, “Scholars Speak Up,” is being held at the same time as Mac Donald’s talk to provide students with an alternative event. 

Mac Donald’s talk will take place on Thursday, Nov. 14 in Bucknell Hall at 7 p.m. The Bucknellian will provide further coverage of this event in the Nov. 22 issue. 


Kathryn Nicolai and Sarah Baldwin also contributed to this report.

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