The Davidsonian

Students Stand in Solidarity Against Dangerous Rhetoric

A banner of one of Moschella's quotes hangs on the second floor of union. The quote equates gender reassignments surgery to giving liposuction to a person suffering from anorexia
Poster of a published quote by Dr. Moschella, Photo courtesy of Brigid McCarthy ’25

Anaya Patel (Any Pronouns)

Last Thursday, a group of Davidson students stood in solidarity with one another to amplify our voices and protect Davidson’s community from hate. 

Davidson College’s Deliberative Citizenship Initiative (DCI) hosted a panel to deliberate on whether parents or educators should hold the right to teach children about what the forum organizers defined as contentious issues: race, gender, and sexuality. While the forum was intended to foster conversation within the event, it also sparked a conversation across campus that lent itself to a demonstration of student activist energy. 

According to political science professor and the DCI Faculty Director Dr. Graham Bullock, “the event fit in with the larger mission of the DCI, which is to create spaces and opportunities for Davidson students, faculty and staff, and committee members and alums, to engage with one another on really difficult issues.” The supposed intention of the panel was to highlight typical conservative and typical liberal viewpoints on the conversation, but it instead erased necessary voices. 

The panelists themselves were Derek W. Black, law professor at the University of South Carolina, and Dr. Melissa Moschella, associate professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of America; the panel was moderated by Dr. Daniel Layman, associate professor of philosophy. Even at first glance, I was hesitant to extend support: why would I attend an all-white, cisgender panel discussing a topic grounded in race, gender, and sexuality? I couldn’t imagine how a two-person panel could be productive, especially when the panelists’ identities weren’t the ones being contested. 

While the lack of representation was troubling, I soon discovered that panelist Dr. Moschella consistently publishes transphobic and racist content. For example, she has published articles arguing that systemic racism ended with the 14th amendment, advocating against the Equality Act, and defining transgender identities to a psychological disorder requiring conversion therapy. The more I read Dr. Moschella’s articles, the more confused I became. Why would an organization grounded in egalitarianism bring an actively racist and transphobic speaker to our campus, even if it was over Zoom? 

The first community member to speak up was DCI fellow Lauren Collver ‘25. “I was concerned that by hosting a conversation in which the voices of white, non-queer people were centered, we could potentially be creating a harmful and exclusive space on campus,” she said. “I was specifically concerned that we were including a speaker who has published views that directly question the identities and histories of transgender people and people of color.”

After emailing Dr. Bullock about her issues with the event, Collver received a response that reiterated the DCI’s mission of egalitarianism as reasoning for Dr. Moschella’s position on the panel. As students from marginalized backgrounds—being queer, trans, and/or students of color—we were not interested in deliberating with an ideology that refutes many of our existences or histories. We certainly did not believe transphobia and racism having a ‘seat at the table’ was conducive to a productive, egalitarian environment. 

As I talked to my peers about Dr. Moschella’s harmful ideologies, as well as the DCI’s endorsement of them, we found ourselves angry enough to do something real, radical, and disruptive. Within the span of 24 hours, a group of Davidson students and I mobilized to disrupt this sphere of racism and transphobia. 

We took to social media to spread the word about Dr. Moschella’s dangerous rhetoric and her forthcoming presence on Davidson’s campus, hoping our peers would heed our warnings and forgo the event for something more meaningful, like Stacey Waite’s “Dear Gender” talk that occurred simultaneous to the DCI forum. After distributing posters between classes and hanging up banners with Dr. Moschella’s hateful quotes, our activism culminated into a physical protest outside of the event space. 

Given the limited time we had been on campus and the quick turnaround of the demonstration, we took inspiration from past student activists. According to protester Rin Davis ‘24, “in the years before, there were very noteworthy protests that several of my mutuals and friends would partake in because they would do similar types of events where they would discuss the rights of people or some thinly-veiled way to be problematic,” she said. Some of these protests included social media activism exposing student Neo-Nazis in 2018 and the “Burn Down the Frats” movement in 2019. 

On the day of the event, as the clock neared 7:00 p.m. and the event crept closer, nerves began to set in. Union went into a frenzy. About 20 protesters started to gather in front of the 900 Room when our anxiety crystallized with the arrival of campus police. Not only were we in disbelief that campus police were called, but we were shocked to see Mike Goode tearing down the posters we had taped around the building. It only fueled our fire. “If you tear down our flyers, we’ll stand there outside and be human flyers,” said protester Lucy Helene ‘25, who then stood outside of Union and informed our peers of the protest. 

While some protesters spread the word, other students scrambled to create signs that declared our motivation. One protester held a white poster board with “Moschella” and a big red X over it. Others wrote phrases that aligned with the protest’s purpose, such as “how can we DELIBERATE when you see NEUTRAL where I see EVIL?” 

The demonstration resulted in a 24-minute conversation with Professors Bullock and Layman—a conversation that delayed the start of the event in a necessary attempt to voice our frustrations. We needed to convey our reason for protesting the forum. 

When Dr. Bullock requested we join the deliberation instead of protest outside the doors, we responded with a simple, “we’re tired.” As students who have had conversations our whole lives with bigoted people about policies that directly invalidate our existences and histories, many of us did not have the energy to explain ourselves once more to potentially harmful individuals. 

In response to our concerns, Dr. Bullock explained the DCI’s intention to cultivate safe spaces for all voices. “There’s always going to be, even within a deliberation, power dynamics and senses of inequalities. But we can try to design spaces that do a better job in trying to establish a better sense of equity.” The DCI’s intention to create a safe space falls flat when they refuse to heed real concerns raised by marginalized students. 

Some protesters also voiced that giving Dr. Moschella a platform could potentially incite violence against marginalized students, as the DCI actively legitimized racist and transphobic ideologies. “What if her position encourages other students on this campus to act in a similar way because she has [had] no consequences? She got a platform, publishing all of those things,” said protester Julia Rembisz ‘25. As violence against transgender folks rises, we should be even more careful about the speakers we bring to campus and the risks of their presence. 

Fellow protest organizer Amelio Aragona ‘25 reiterated our questions of representation: “they don’t seem to understand that the only faculty on that panel were individuals who had no tangible connection to the issues being debated—there was no professor who was Black, there was not a queer professor or a trans professor. So how could we feel comfortable being debated about when no one up there was in our corner?”

Most of our points regarding diversity and inclusion were dismissed with the notion that the two panelists were qualified to address these issues. Dr. Bullock did qualify that the DCI considered having a larger, more diverse panel, but, for fear of being overwhelming, they opted for a smaller panel at the expense of inclusion. In a panel where we are discussing inclusion and the lived experiences of marginalized people, it’s dangerous to exclude those voices. It also centers whiteness in a conversation of issues that have been constructed and perpetuated by white supremacy. 

As we expressed our concerns about Dr. Moschella’s presence and the lack of diversity, we were met with defensive justifications rather than empathy, compassion, or even an understanding of where we came from. “So many of us —students of color, trans students, queer students— all standing in solidarity with each other, and then to have those professors minimize or diminished them, it made me so upset to feel completely unrecognized,” said Aragona in retrospect. “There was no ‘I’m so sorry that you’re feeling this pain.’ It was more like, ‘oh you silly students, you don’t understand what you’re even talking about.’”

While the focus of the protest revolved around Dr. Moschella’s hateful rhetoric, it unfortunately would not impact her directly, a view expressed by DCI fellow Kayleigh Davies ‘25. “I thought the protest was beautiful and terrifying to walk through, but it didn’t touch her. [Moschella’s] gonna sleep soundly tonight.” 

In keeping with their commitment to deliberation, the DCI expressed appreciation for the protest, defining it as an actual part of the discourse and deliberation, even in its disruptive nature. “It’s important to emphasize when there’s a disagreement like this that we all remain a discursive and deliberative community. In a way, it’s especially open because that shows there’s an especially heightened level of concern and engagement from these particular students,” Dr. Layman said. 

Although I appreciate the DCI’s recognition of our right to protest, I find contradiction in how they brush aside our concerns. If they truly valued protest as a means of democratic participation, the DCI would institute changes to their structure and method. Dr. Bullock proposed increasing outreach to different student groups as a solution but such a measure is superficial and does not address our problems with the forum. 

We hope instead that our demonstration will impact the DCI and how it operates in the future. Rather than invite a problematic speaker whose scholarship is based on not only harmful ideology but also misinformation, we hope the DCI will be more thoughtful of its panelists, their backgrounds, and the potential impact of future events. Additionally, we hope the DCI will reconsider what they deem a productive conversation. “I thought it was really shocking that this was even allowed to happen in the first place,” said Aragona. “I thought we’d moved on from this idea of ‘controversial right-leaning speaker versus woke left-leaning speaker.’ I think that structure of debate is tired and old.” 

As the first protest of the year, Thursday’s demonstration stands out as a marker of student passion for activism and commitment to Davidson’s community. Just as we looked to previous activists, we hope to preserve the precedent of students speaking out against administration and faculty when their safety is compromised and voices silenced. 

Anaya Patel ‘25 is an intended anthropology major and data science minor from San Antonio, TX. Anaya can be reached for comment at anpatel@davidson.edu.

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