A panel featuring several controversial figures at Portland State University unfolded with just one interruption on Saturday evening despite organizers voicing fears of violence and protests intended to silent conservative dissent.
A student group called Freethinkers of PSU invited James Damore, an engineer who was fired from Google for writing a memo on gender and diversity that the company deemed sexually harassing and discriminatory. He spoke on a panel, moderated by a philosophy professor, that also included two women known for their conservative views on gender dynamics.
"[The memo] was just trying to help our culture at Google," Damore said during tonight's panel. "I'm never saying we should discourage women and discriminate against women going into tech. There's definitely still discrimination happening in some sectors. [But] maybe if we could change the workplace we could solve the problem."
In the days leading up to Damore's appearance, event organizers sought and obtained national media attention by claiming that the panel had been subjected to violent threats.
Andy Ngo, a PSU grad student and freelance writer who has gained a national conservative platform by amplifying the excesses of campus leftists, wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Feb. 16. "We expected controversy," wrote Ngo, who helped arrange the panel. "But we also got danger."
He cited two violent threats on Facebook, three diversity events held on campus as counterprogramming, and a scornful blog post by WW that had described Damore as a "tech bro."
Fox News picked up the story and warned that Antifa would "target" the event.
But not a single black-clad, bandana-wearing antifascist showed up at the event.
When the doors of Hoffman Hall opened to the ticket-holding attendees, the only protesters in sight were a group of six students holding signs displaying photos of prominent women scientists: Dana Ulery, Gladys West, Lynn Conway, Radia Perlman, Adele Goldberg, and Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace, the Eniac Team, Karen Spark-Jones and Sophie Wilson.
The small group walked up to the courtyard in front of Hoffman Hall, showing the signs to people waiting in line and patiently answering questions from bystanders curious about the women. In front of the hall, they held their signs and talked quietly among themselves.
Some other protesters waiting in line for the walk-out protest wore purple, a color chosen to distinguish themselves from the rest of the small crowd waiting to listen to Damore speak.
"I'm bummed my tuition money is going toward James Damore," said Chloe Kendal, a senior graphic design major, as she waited in line. "Most people I know are really bummed. People in my department are really unhappy he's speaking on campus."
Her friend Jenny Vu, also a graphic design major, says most students didn't know or care about the event.
"Most people are unaware and indifferent, but the people who are aware are angry," she says.
They both hoped to send a message to the event organizers by walking out of the auditorium.
More than 200 people showed up to the event. Around 6:30, a handful of attendees got up to walk out.
As they were leaving, two people tried to disconnect the audio equipment by knocking over a speaker and pulling out wires. The microphones cut out for about 30 seconds.
One woman was detained by campus security and charged with a misdemeanor.
A few people shoved each other on the way out.
The event continued within a minute, almost as if nothing had happened.
The tame event followed the release of National Labor Relations Board opinion on Friday that found Damore's discrimination complaint against Google was groundless. (Damore withdrew the complaint last month, and now intends to sue Google.) The board lawyer found that the company had not violated federal protections and said Damore's memo contained "statements regarding biological differences between the sexes [that] were so harmful, discriminatory, and disruptive as to be unprotected."