Dinesh D'Souza '83's lecture at the College sparks protests

by Abigail Mihaly and Cassandra Thomas | 2/12/19 3:20am

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by Naina Bhalla / The Dartmouth Staff

On Monday evening, Dinesh D’Souza ’83 spoke at an event sponsored by the Dartmouth Republicans and the Young America Foundation. Over 200 people attended the event, and dozens of students and community members protested the speech through song, chants and signs. The event, part of Young America Foundation’s 10-campus “Dinesh D’Souza tour: Fake History Debunked,” took place in Filene Auditorium.

On the day of the event, posters circulated around Dartmouth, publicizing past quotes from D’Souza such as “The American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty well,” and calling for community members to “tell [the Hanover Inn] to stop hosting visitors who use hate speech.”

D’Souza, originally from Mumbai, India, first came to the U.S. as an exchange student. At the College, he was an editor of The Dartmouth Review, where he was involved in several controversial incidents, including outing several gay classmates and overseeing the publication of an article against affirmative action written in African-American Vernacular English, titled “Dis Sho Ain’t No Jive, Bro.” 

Since graduating from the College, D’Souza has published books and produced movies surrounding American conservatism and is considered an influential conservative thinker. In 2014, he pled guilty to violating campaign finance laws in a Senate election between his friend from college, Wendy Long ’82, and Kirsten Gillibrand ’88. President Donald Trump pardoned D’Souza in 2018.

At the event on Monday, College Republicans president Josh Kauderer ’19 introduced D’Souza by welcoming him back to Hanover on behalf of the group. Kauderer said he was “grateful” that D’Souza was willing to speak at Dartmouth despite the “hostile environment” toward prominent conservative alumni. He also emphasized the College Republicans’ belief in a freedom to express one’s opinion.

Department of Safety and Security director Keysi Montás was present at the event along with three other Safety and Security officers stationed around Filene Auditorium “making sure the crowd was moving” and that everyone remained safe.

After a short introduction video, D’Souza took the stage and spoke about issues he believes to be most important in contemporary American politics, centering on the idea of “walls” — including Trump’s proposed wall along the country’s southern border — as well as walls in a more figurative sense of the word, including identity and who is included inside or outside the wall.

D’Souza acknowledged the dissenters at the start of his address and said he “would be happy to engage those ideas in the question and answer session.”

He discussed what he called “a broken immigration system.” D’Souza said that his route to the U.S. cost much more than those crossing through the southern border. 

“Quite frankly, we don’t have a Rio Grande that we can come thrashing across or a ditch that we can tunnel under to get to America,” D’Souza said.

He claimed that Trump does not “hate immigrants” but instead “hates illegals.” He said that those crossing illegally into the country are taking advantage of other immigrants seeking a legal path to the U.S.

D’Souza also spoke about American exceptionalism, claiming that not all cultures are equal. He added that coming to the U.S. provided him with not only material prosperity, but also a chance to escape his destiny.

The question and answer section focused on free speech and the significance of having D’Souza on campus.

One audience member’s question criticized D’Souza’s approach of addressing many topics briefly rather than going into depth in any one topic. D’Souza responded by saying that he hopes his lecture serves as an introduction to his ideas and that interested students can read his books or watch his YouTube videos for more in-depth discussion.

Members of the College Republicans executive board Daniel Bring ’21 and Charles Schneider ’22 noted that from the perspective of the College Republicans, D’Souza’s speech was not meant to be polarizing or controversial.

“On our side of the aisle, D’Souza is a well-respected, well-regarded individual,” Bring said. “When we are selecting speakers for the benefit of our members, we don’t really take into account ... the views that we already think are echoed more than enough on Dartmouth’s campus.”

Bring and Schneider said that the College Republicans anticipated the protest and that they thought it would be impossible to find a speaker who would not draw opposition. 

“As the Dartmouth College Republicans, we know that we’re a minority on campus in terms of political beliefs,” Schneider said. “We come into it with that expectation.” 

Kauderer said in his introduction to D’Souza’s speech that the College Republicans recognized the right to protest, but that any person making it impossible for D’Souza to speak would face disciplinary consequences.

A group of 12 protesters gathered in the hallway signing protest anthems and carrying signs with messages like “Warning: fascist on campus,” “Fags against fascists” and “No platform 4 hate.” At various intervals, a few protesters entered the hall where D’Souza spoke and carried the signs through the crowd.

Some students made distracting noises during the speech, such as loudly tearing plastic wrapping off of water bottles. A pair of students draped in gay pride attire walked to the front of the room and passionately kissed while D’Souza spoke.

Ellie Gonzalez ’19 used protest to convey dissatisfaction in the College Republicans for bringing a speaker who has “acted with malicious intent towards queer people,” expressing determination to express frustration in a public, attention-drawing way. 

“Our right to exist is not up for debate, and until they get on board with that, I’m going to show up to every event in my gayest outfit and protest any way I damn well please,” Gonzalez said.

During a later interruption by the protesters, D’Souza paused his remarks and joked with the audience.

“I guess this is what they call hate speech,” he said. “I’ve got to be more careful. You’d think I’d have been slinging insults since I came in here.” 

D’Souza strayed from his speech a second time to address the protesters, saying they were “not willing to do the intellectual work” and “too lazy” to properly debate him.

Catherine Rocchi ’19 came to the event as a silent protester and expressed exasperation in the fact that the College Republicans chose a conservative figure who was as controversial as D’Souza.

“Someone like Dinesh D’Souza is not going to change anyone’s mind,” Rocchi said. “What he’s saying is absolutely ridiculous.”

She said she did not think the College Republicans brought him to Dartmouth with the hope of “winning people over or stimulating a real intellectual discussion,” but instead wanted “to make a splash.”

In contrast to promoting free speech like the College Republicans aimed to do, Rocchi felt that D’Souza’s event did little to promote a debate and instead incited feelings of anger and frustration. 

Mariana Peñaloza ’22 described feeling angry and disappointed when the College Republicans announced that D’Souza was speaking on campus “because they do it as a trigger rather than actually wanting to have a political conversation.”

College Republicans member Brian Drisdelle ’21 said he was frustrated by the “lazy” and “childish” nature of the protests. 

“In all honesty, I hope that people sort of stop with the craziness,” Drisdelle said. “I can’t stop them from doing anything, it seems to be the way the trend is going, but you would think intellectuals would have a little more integrity than screaming like children outside [the] door.”

Students used more dramatic attention-drawing methods of protest to emphasize that D’Souza could “really make some people on campus feel unsafe,” according to Rocchi.

“Some people probably wanted to make the College Republicans feel as though as they shouldn’t bring such extreme, incendiary speakers to campus anymore, since this is becoming a pattern since [David Horowitz spoke on campus] back in the fall,” she said.

Montás expressed satisfaction at how the talk turned out. 

“Everybody said their piece and everybody I think had a dialogue, as contentious as it could be,” Montás said. 

Correction appended (Feb. 13, 2019): This article has been updated to correct a misspelling of Drisdelle's name.