Former Google engineer James Damore, known for his controversial diversity memo, joined students from Freethinkers of Portland State and Assistant Professor of Philosophy Dr. Peter Boghossian in a Feb. 17 panel discussion defending Damore’s take on diversity in the technology industry.
PSU community members attended in support and opposition of Damore and the panelists’ perspectives. Dissenters divided attendance between two alternative events and a small protest hosted at the same time.
The panel, composed of speakers Heather Heying, Helen Pluckrose, Boghossian and Damore, drew a crowd of about 200 attendees. The discussion focused on select ideas in Damore’s 2017 diversity memo, for which he was fired from Google because the company claimed his message perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes.
A quiet crowd of about 10 protesters stood outside Hoffman Hall, holding signs with photos and descriptions of women in the tech industry throughout history.
“I’m a schoolteacher myself,” one protester said. “It’s important for me to let other women know that women have a long history in technology.”
Half an hour into the event, about 20 people quietly walked out. Speakers were briefly disrupted when one person knocked over sound equipment and called Damore a piece of shit.
Campus Public Safety officers detained the individual for questioning. Boghossian shouted to the room that the individual’s behavior was unacceptable in civilized society, and if they caused a similar disturbance in the future, they should be expelled from PSU.
Across campus in the Smith Memorial Student Union Ballroom, Associated Students of PSU and other student groups hosted a diversity block party. The event featured an open mic for participants to share experiences with diversity on campus and served tamales, pupusas and Thai food.
At the same time, about 50 students attended a networking event co-hosted by PSU Women in Computer Science. Students received resume help, met local industry representatives and listened to a keynote on diversity in computer science. “We’ve received requests to do this again,” said WICS Technical Lead Karis Sponsler.
Boghossian said Freethinkers of PSU invited all tenured and tenure-track women’s studies professors to attend the event “for a conversation, not a debate,” but they declined the invitation.
Boghossian said he wanted to extend the same invitation again for, “Is Intersectionality a Religion?,” an event he scheduled alongside Pluckrose and PSU College Republicans at 6 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 19 in Cramer Hall.