Law students at Lewis & Clark College interrupt appearance by Christina Hoff Sommers

Christina Hoff Sommers, a widely known conservative scholar and commentator, spoke at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, on March 5, 2018. A small group of students protested the event, first by attempting to prevent her from entering the event space, and then by chanting and singing during her remarks.

Key Players

Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar and philosopher at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. She is best known for her opposition to modern-day feminist ideology and methodology, and she commonly expresses the view that claims of rape and sexual assault on college campuses are exaggerated, and that rape culture is not real. In April 2015, students at Oberlin College protested Sommers while she spoke on what she describes as the radicalization of feminism.

Janet Steverson is a professor at Lewis & Clark Law School and serves as its dean of diversity and inclusion. According to the school’s website, this office “is responsible for the strategy and implementation of Lewis & Clark’s commitment to a safe, welcoming, and equitable learning community.” Steverson assisted in moderating the event with Sommers and also attempted to manage the protesters.

The Federalist Society is a national legal society with a student chapter at Lewis & Clark Law School. The group describes itself as a “non-partisan conservative and libertarian organization dedicated to freedom, federalism and judicial restraint.” According to its mission statement, one of the group’s goals is to “bring the best legal experts available” to the school, in order to “ensure that there are voices on campus to challenge … liberal orthodoxy that pervades the law school culture.” The Federalist Society invited Sommers to Lewis & Clark, and she was slated to speak May 5 about “trigger warnings, safe spaces, and victimhood culture.”

Further Details

Ahead of Sommers’ speech, a number of student organizations from Lewis & Clark Law released a joint statement condemning the event and calling for her disinvitation. They included the local student chapters of the National Lawyers Guild, the Minority Law Student Association, the Women’s Law Caucus, the Immigration Student Group, the Jewish Law Society, the Young Democratic Socialists of America, the Black Law Student Association, the Latino Law Society, and OutLaw.

Their statement read, in part, “The Federalist Society found it necessary to unilaterally invite a known fascist to our campus to encourage what we believe to be an act of aggression and violence toward members of our society who experience racial and gendered oppression.” It continued, “We call on the Federalist Society to rescind their invitation to have Christina Sommers speak on campus.”

Sommers’ talk proceeded as planned March 5. However, before the event, protesters blocked access to the room where she was scheduled to speak. The event organizers had to re-route access to the room, directing attendees to enter through a back entrance. Throughout Sommers’ speech, protesters chanted various refrains like “Rape culture is not a myth,” “Microaggressions are real,” and “The gender wage gap is real.” At one point, they began to sing over her, apparently addressing the other students in the audience: “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.”

Sommers was able to speak for sustained periods of time, reports Inside Higher Ed, though she later complained that she wasn’t given enough time to finish her remarks, because Steverson initiated the Q&A period earlier than Sommers had planned. Following the event, she criticized Steverson on Twitter for cutting her speech short.

Steverson told Inside Higher Ed that she chose to do this because she had promised the protesters they would have the opportunity to engage in dialogue with Sommers, which helped subdue some of them. Steverson said she adjusted the timetable to ensure there would be time for this conversation. Indeed, according to a statement released by Lewis & Clark, “students engaged in a vigorous discussion [with Sommers] during the question-and-answer session.”


Lewis & Clark condemns students’ demonstration, indicates possible disciplinary action

Following the event, Lewis & Clark released a statement about the protest. The school said it did “not condone the intentional efforts by even a few students to prevent this speaker from communicating her views to the vast majority of students who were willing to hear and debate them. … Critical thinking and discourse are integral to the mission of Lewis & Clark Law School.” The statement also noted that the school would be “taking appropriate disciplinary actions in accordance with school policies.”