Students rally against Heather Mac Donald

Jess Kaplan, News Editor

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On Nov. 14, more than 45 University students protested against Heather Mac Donald, a conservative political commentator who spoke against institutional efforts to promote diversity and inclusion. A picket line protest was staged by the Bucknell University Democratic Socialists of America, a new club that reflects and supports the values of the rising progressive movement.

Students gathered in the Grove with signs praising diversity and denouncing racism, reading slogans such as “Hate Speech ≠ Freedom of Speech.” The students banded together in winter coats with hot chocolate, chanting “Hey hey! Ho Ho! Heather Mac has got to go!” and “No justice! No peace!”

The University has hosted polarizing speakers in the past: Professor Amy Wax from the University of Pennsylvania Law School came in April 2018 even after she had been demoted for comments that implied black students cannot excel in law school. Palestinian rights activist Miko Peled spoke in February 2019, despite his outspoken criticism of the Israeli government and rhetoric that many have deemed anti-semitic. Historian Mark Bray spoke on his book “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook” this past September. However, no recent contentious guest has garnered as much attention as Mac Donald. In fact, Mac Donald is the only speaker who inspired an organized protest.

Protest coordinator Griffin Perrault ’22, opened the protest by asking: “Why are we here?” to which students shouted, “Cause Heather Mac Donald shouldn’t be!”

To Perrault, Mac Donald’s presence on campus magnifies the sexual, racial, and economic inequality that plagues campus. However, he acknowledged that “problems are solvable when you put people in the right place and give them the right reason to solve them.”

Perrault’s optimism was attacked by an attendee of Mac Donald’s talk. “Communist trash,” he shouted as he walked into Bucknell Hall.

Chanting continued through the open mic portion of the protest, in which students were encouraged to share their thoughts on Mac Donald or any personal incidents of injustice they have experienced at the University. Speak UP Coordinator Lilly Shaner ’21 invited attendees to a “factual conversation about tonight’s event” at the club’s alternative event, “Scholars Speak Up.”

Alex Boyer ’22 concluded the event with a powerful recount of how his sister’s trauma from being assaulted had alerted him to the larger “suffering as a result of societal and individual actions.”

Boyer’s words illuminated how some forms of speech are more damaging than others. “Some speech isn’t valuable or worth being discussed, and in fact, we do a lot of harm in discussing some forms of speech. We should all care for each other and respect each other’s identity without questioning their reality,” Boyer said.  

Boyer listed the seven faculty members who are responsible for Mac Donald’s talk and pressed University President John Bravman to publicly apologize for the event. He urged students victimized by Mac Donald’s rhetoric “to not let themselves be dominated and controlled by the hatred that these people bring.”

Some students believed the protest did not send a message of solidarity, but only granted Mac Donald the attention she was fervently seeking. 

Others, however, believed it was necessary to show support for students and survivors who are targeted by her claims. “I think the focus should always be on supporting those students and their needs, especially if the Bucknell administration continues to be complicit in allowing speakers like this to come to campus,” Izzy Law ’21 said.

As 7 p.m. drew near, protestors marched toward SpeakUp event. They chanted,  “This is what democracy looks like” in unison, attempting to drown out the beginning of Mac Donald’s talk. “I think we’ve made it abundantly clear where we as students stand when it comes to platforming hate speech,” Boyer said, reflecting on the protest.

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