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Alumni Response to Heather MacDonald and “The Diversity Delusion”

On February 11, 2020, Taylor Reese ’19, published the following article on Medium. She has graciously allowed The Vigil to republish her piece here for the broader W&L community.

Campus Republicans and a few other on campus groups are sponsoring a talk called “The Diversity Delusion” by author and editor Heather MacDonald, who also supports the so-called “campus rape myth.” This speaker and her ideas are antithetical to Washington and Lee’s stated commitments to diversity, and is unnecessary and harmful to the student experience.

By supporting and enabling MacDonald’s voice, Washington and Lee University is betraying their stated commitment to diversity:

Washington and Lee affirms that diverse perspectives and backgrounds enhance our community. We are committed to the recruitment, enrichment, and retention of students, faculty, and staff who embody many experiences, cultures, points of view, interests, and identities. As engaged citizens in a global and diverse society, we seek to advance a positive learning and working environment for all through open and substantive dialogue.

MacDonald’s ideas violate W&L’s stated commitment to “advancing a positive learning and working environment,” and with a “substantive dialogue.” If MacDonald speaks in Lee Chapel, her one voice silences dozens of others, others that Washington and Lee has already long ignored or pushed to the wayside. With the rise and flourishing of student groups such as the Student Association for Black Unity, First Gen / Low Income Partnership, Latinx Student Organization, and more, it would be a massive leap backwards and a betrayal to allow someone to speak about how this diversity — which has brought great value to the W&L student experience — is a delusion.

Washington and Lee is a private institution with the right to accept and deny speakers as they wish. If the University allows MacDonald on campus, they position themselves as even more complicit in the rape epidemic, and as uncommitted to and disinterested in the diversity causes they claim to champion and respect.

Washington and Lee, we beg you: stand for something. Be a proactive institution. In some situations, there’s a right and a wrong. You can’t always play both sides, and sometimes, that is hard. Many of us learned that valuable lesson as undergrads at your institution: we are justified in expecting the same, if not more, of you. As a University that claims to have an eye to the future and wants to educate the next generation of leaders, it’s especially difficult to teach undergrads how to make tough choices when you refuse to lead by example.

I listened to MacDonald’s talk of the same title, delivered at Hillsdale College, to better understand her point of view. Throughout her twenty minute talk, the consistent throughline is obsessive fear mongering. One line in particular resonated with me, as it directly applied to W&L: “If you’re a white male, you’re going to have to reach a higher standard to get promoted.”


When W&L moved to coeducation in the mid 1980s, the immediate increase in the quality of students and graduates was evident to everyone present. By becoming coed, the University became more selective, and could only accept better, more qualified applicants. This selectivity has allowed W&L to become a top school in the present.

If you want to be promoted, work for it. Prove that you belong in the spaces you were once entitled to. Just because these spaces, positions, and institutions are becoming more competitive does not mean that people are out to get you specifically. In her talk, MacDonald derides playing the victim card over and over — and yet, that seems to be exactly what is happening here.

MacDonald’s idea that “academic identity politics” make students more hateful struck me. As an alumni of the class of 2019, I feel qualified to speak to this specifically. I am not a more hateful person because I went to college. In fact, I’ve become more empathetic, because I’ve had to engage with views and experiences outside of my own. All to the credit of the diversity of my peers, professors, classes, and more. In college, we learn and become comfortable with questioning tradition for tradition’s sake, and the way things have always been. This does not make us hateful — this makes us curious, intelligent, and the next generation of leaders.

On a personal note, I’d like to address her extolling of the “campus rape myth,” though this does not appear to be what she is planning to speak about on campus. In her article, she explains that the rape crisis on college campuses really isn’t as bad as the numbers say, because what people are claiming to be rape really isn’t. Among other things.

I won’t spend this space or my time breaking down and refuting her points. But as a rape survivor, I know am lucky to be called a “survivor.” She may make fun of the term in her article, but not everyone who is raped lives to tell about it, and of that fact, I’m keenly aware.

If you believe campus rape to be a myth, please, read my senior thesis. Read it, take it in, and then look me in the eyes and tell me that I was not raped. That my friends were not raped. That that is just how life is, and boys will be boys, and all of that. If you can look me in the eyes and tell me that you don’t believe me, then at least you’ve shown yourself. And if you can’t, maybe you’ll walk away a little better for it.

If you’d like to sign the petition stating the Heather MacDonald’s ideas do not represent W&L or the student body, you can find it here.

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