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Speaker invited by Young Americans for Freedom sparks controversy

The appearance of political philosopher Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr. at Beloit College on Friday, April 6, stirred controversy among Beloit students who object to Dr. Mansfield’s views regarding gender and sexuality.

Mansfield, 86, is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Government at Harvard University, where he has taught for over 50 years. His lecture on Friday highlighted his 2006 book Manliness, in which he defines manliness as “confidence in a situation of risk.” The book suggests that this quality has lost value in Western culture, and claims that innate differences exist between men and women which adhere to Western society’s traditional perceptions of masculinity and femininity. 

Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr.
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

The speaker’s visit to campus was chiefly organized by Andrew Collins’20, who is the founder and chair of the Beloit College chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, an ideologically conservative youth activism organization. Collins told the Round Table that Mansfield’s honorarium was paid in part by a Young Americans for Freedom donor and in part by the school’s funding board, and that the event was supported by Provost and Dean of the College Ann Davies as well as by President Scott Bierman, who wrote a letter of support for Mansfield.

Collins said that Mansfield was “the most conservative speaker to come to Beloit in a long time,” and that he felt he was “also the most distinguished.”

On the evening of Thursday, April 5, a post in the Beloit College Student Group on Facebook highlighting Mansfield’s views developed into a thread in which students further investigated his ideologies and discussed staging a protest during the lecture.

The students involved noted that Mansfield has said that women are “weaker than men” and have “innately have less capacity than men at the highest level of science,” and that he has claimed that homosexuality is “shameful” and not “socially responsible.” Many students in the thread were upset and angered, and some considered making posters to formally protest the event. Others argued that the provocative, controversial nature of Mansfield’s views is likely deliberate and suggested that campus activists use their energy elsewhere.

Ultimately, there was no formal protest at the lecture, although a security guard was present, which is not typical of academic events at Beloit College. Significantly fewer students, faculty and community members were in attendance than the Round Table typically observes at lectures on campus.

Several audience members booed Mansfield as he took the stage, and some heckled him throughout his talk. After Mansfield said that women are innately weaker than their husbands, one student stood and yelled, “Who the fuck is paying you to be here?” The student was asked to leave by the security guard present, and he obliged. Mansfield did not acknowledge most of the interruptions.

Following the talk, which summarized the ideas expressed in Manliness, Mansfield responded to questions from the audience. Those in attendance addressed Mansfield’s perception of the relationship between gender and biological sex, challenged his focus on Western concepts of masculinity or manliness, and requested statistical evidence to back up his claims. (To that request, he responded that he does not “like to live by statistics.”) All of the questions asked of Mansfield challenged his views.

Collins told the Round Table that he was disappointed by the attendees who had heckled the speaker. “I assumed people would act their age, yet, unfortunately a few did not,” he said. “They had the effect of embarrassing themselves and the college.” Students who had disagreed with Mansfield expressed a similar sentiment at the event and later in the Beloit College Student Group.

Collins said that Young Americans for Freedom is planning to invite more speakers to campus in the future.

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  1. Pingback: “Manliness” at Beloit College… and “Disgrace” in America | ACADEME BLOG
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