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Christina Hoff Sommers has for years been a critic of the women's movement -- and has in turn been criticized by many feminists. She has accused feminists of an ideology that hurts boys and men. Feminists accuse her of distorting their ideas.
She is known for pithy quotes that endear her to many critics of campus political movements but that advocates for women say oversimplify at best. Her lead quote on her Twitter feed is "Want to close wage gap? Step one: Change your major from feminist dance therapy to electrical engineering."
Of late, Sommers has spoken critically of the campus response to sexual assaults, questioning the concept of "rape culture." In a New York Times interview last year, she said that the push against sexual assault has "infantilized" women, and that "equity feminism," which she supports, has been replaced by "victim feminism" and "fainting couch feminism."
On Monday, Sommers spoke at the law school of Lewis & Clark College. Prior to her speech, a small group of protesters attempted to block access to the room, prompting the college to lead those who wanted to hear Sommers around to a back entrance. Then at the beginning of the speech and at various points throughout, protesters interrupted Sommers, although there were sustained periods when Sommers was able to talk.
At one point, the protesting students (a minority of those in attendance) sang, "Which side are you on, friends? Which side are you on? No platform for fascists, no platform at all. We will fight for justice until Christina's gone."
At the beginning of the event, protesters prevented Sommers from talking by shouting, "Rape culture is not a myth," "Microaggressions are real," "The gender wage gap is real," "Trans lives matter," "Black lives matter" and other chants.
The students, some of whom had asked Lewis & Clark to rescind the invitation, accused the college and the law school of endorsing Sommers's views by giving her a platform to talk. Sommers was invited by the Federalist Society, a self-described conservative student group at Lewis & Clark.
The incident at Lewis & Clark comes at a time when higher education continues to discuss whether colleges are tolerant of all ideas and visiting speakers, and especially ideas voiced by those who go against the grain of widely shared views on campuses.
Janet Steverson, a law professor and dean of diversity and inclusion at the law school, said in an interview Monday night that the students who blocked the entrances to the auditorium and who interrupted Sommers violated college rules. She said that she anticipated "consequences" for those students but that she did not know what those would be.
Steverson stressed that it was only a minority of students who disrupted and that Sommers was given the opportunity to speak.
Sommers, on Twitter, criticized Steverson for asking her to cut short her remarks and move to the question period. Steverson said she did so to promote an orderly discussion. She said she was worried that Sommers was going on too long and that the question period would be minimal. Steverson said the argument she and others made to students not to disrupt was premised in part on the idea that students would be able to question Sommers.
"I could see the students getting antsy," Steverson said, explaining why she asked Sommers to move quickly to the question period.
Steverson said that, at another point when some were disrupting, she asked them to stop so that their classmates could ask questions. "I think it worked out as well as it could have."
Steverson said it was important to understand that some of those protesting Sommers viewed her as personally attacking those who have reported sexual assaults. "This is a very personal thing," she said
At the same time, Steverson said that while there are many grounds on which to criticize Sommers, she did not think it appropriate to call her a fascist, as the protesting students did repeatedly. "In the law school it is important to define the terms that you are using and apply the facts to support the allegations that you have made," she said.