A polarizing panel discussion at an Oregon college was briefly disrupted by a group of protesters. The controversy stemmed from the participation of former Google engineer James Damore, who was fired from the tech giant for asserting in a memo that women were biologically less quipped to work in the field.
On Feb. 24, Portland State University (PSU) hosted a gender dynamics panel that included engineer James Damore, former Evergreen College professor Heather E. Heying and writer Helen Pluckrose. The event was organized by the student group Freethinkers of PSU.
In August 2017, Damore was fired from Google after circulating an internal memo criticizing the company for its initiative to make diverse hiring choices. Damore asserted that women were biologically less interested or capable in the technology industry in a piece titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.”
Google promptly fired the engineer, citing that he had created a hostile work environment for female employees. Damore has since become a prominent conservative advocate for free speech. He has also been accused by critics of promoting sexist views towards women in the workplace.
Damore responded to his termination by filing a complaint with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
The PSU panel was handled with precautionary measures amid safety concerns. Graduate student and conservative writer Andy Ngo disclosed beforehand that Freethinkers had received violent threats in response to Damore’s invitation.
“We found a way to get all of the panelists in through the back entrance of the venue from a green room close by,” Freethinkers of PSU volunteer Blake Horner told the Clackamas Print. “We closed off all of the blinds to ensure that no one would know that they were inside that room while we were setting up.”
The event was met with several protesters standing outside of the venue, holding up signs promoting female scientists.
“I’m bummed my tuition money is going toward James Damore,” PSU senior Chloe Kendal told Willamette Week. “Most people I know are really bummed. People in my department are really unhappy he’s speaking on campus.”
Thirty minutes into the panel discussion, several protesters attending the forum stood up from their seats and staged a walkout. One protester named Heather Wombat began ripping out cables from the sound booth. She was swiftly escorted outside by security.
Wombat was charged with criminal mischief in the second degree and banned from approaching the campus for up to two years. She subsequently stated on social media “Bottom line, people like [Damore] are absolutely not welcome here. … A small walkout and some equipment damage isn’t saying much, but it’s a whole lot louder than nothing.”
The panelists, predominantly conservative, largely concurred with Damore’s point of view. Moderator Dr. Peter Boghossian noted that the makeup of the event had invited the staff from the PSU Women’s Studies department to participate but they had declined.
On Feb. 15, the NLRB disclosed that it had rejected Damore’s complaint against Google on Jan. 19, concluding in a statement that the engineer’s comments were not legally protected from workplace termination, The Verge reports.
“The statements regarding biological differences between the sexes were so harmful, discriminatory, and disruptive as to be unprotected.”
The NLRB added that some of Damore’s claims were “discriminatory and constituted sexual harassment, notwithstanding [Damore’s] effort to cloak [his] comments with ‘scientific’ references and analysis.”