Conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza raises student ire during diversity talk

Conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza delivers a talk Monday evening about his views on diversity. Some students protested the talk outside Ryan Auditorium in the Technological Institute.

Hillary Back/The Daily Northwestern

Conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza delivers a talk Monday evening about his views on diversity. Some students protested the talk outside Ryan Auditorium in the Technological Institute.

Patrick Svitek, Managing Editor

Northwestern students challenged conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza’s controversial views on diversity during a tense Q-and-A on Monday evening.

D’Souza addressed more than 80 people in Technological Institute’s Ryan Auditorium before answering about a dozen questions almost equally divided between the friendly and the not-so-friendly.

The “2016: Obama’s America” filmmaker earned a sharp rebuke from Associated Student Government president Ani Ajith, who participated in a silent protest outside the auditorium and later described D’Souza’s commentary as “hate speech and bigotry,” as well as “pseudo-intellectual babble.”

During his prepared remarks, D’Souza argued places like NU create a “suffocating atmosphere” that intimidates students into learning “what you should and shouldn’t say” about racially charged issues like affirmative action.

“Ultimately, all of it is lies, but it is lies with muscle,” he said. “It’s lies that come along with threats so you can’t say what’s clearly not true about it because if you do, you’ll be stepping out of bounds.”

NU College Republicans organized D’Souza’s visit, which came amid heightened tensions over race relations on campus. A nomination for a diversity-related position in ASG was blocked earlier this month over questions of whether the student could connect with multicultural groups, while Alianza representatives took heat for a letter co-written with Ajith about Cinco de Mayo.

“We recognize diversity is a kind of hot topic on campus, and we definitely wanted to contribute to that conversation,” said Rebecca Schieber, president of College Republicans. “That was our main motive.”

D’Souza acknowledged he had “heard about the rumblings” at NU and was candid about his own role in the diversity discussion.

“On the campus, the conservatives aren’t powerful enough to be part of the debate, so just once a year you have to have a gadfly like me come and sort of torment the campus a little bit and get the protesters to spread their wings, and that’s it,” D’Souza said.

Schieber, a Weinberg sophomore, said she was pleased to see a nearly even split between audience members who agreed with D’Souza and those who did not. D’Souza found allies in mostly older, non-student audience members who thanked him for bringing an underrepresented perspective to NU, while some students were more skeptical.

“I know you completely hate facts and history, but how do you explain institutional racism and how it’s impacted blacks over the past 100 years?” Weinberg junior Ferila Maatulimanu-Mae Sausi asked.

After a heated back-and-forth over the premise of her question, D’Souza replied he does not believe institutional racism exists, calling it a “nonsense term.”

Ajith, who did not attend D’Souza’s talk and remained outside the auditorium, said he recently became aware of D’Souza’s work and was specifically offended by his attitudes toward the LGBT community and Muslims.

“It’s pretty simple,” Ajith said. “What he believes in is categorically rejected by the Northwestern community.”

At one point, as many as 20 students sat quietly in front of the auditorium doors, Ajith said. Inside, D’Souza mocked the apparent protesters in a whining voice.

“Let’s block the entrance so no one can get in,” he said. “He’s against diversity!”