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Monday, Mar 4, 2024

Stanger and Callanan Talk Murray at Princeton

Editor's note: a video of the event can be viewed here.

Professors Allison Stanger and Keegan Callanan criticized ideological homogeneity at the college and emphasized empathy and free thinking in response to controversial ideas at a Princeton University panel discussion last month. 

The event, titled “Speak Freely: Lessons from Middlebury and Evergreen State,” centered on the duo’s reflections in the aftermath of the March 2017 protests of Charles Murray, the controversial conservative author whom protesters labeled a white supremacist. 

Stanger had engaged in a back-and-forth with Murray via a livestream after the protest. On their way out of the building, after their exchange, Stanger was assaulted. 

At Princeton, Stanger said she views what happened to her during Murray’s visit as “somewhat of a gift,” in that it deepened her empathy and opened her mind.

“I don’t have any regrets for what I did,” she said at the panel. “I would do exactly the same thing over again, and I have learned so much through that experience and talking to people around the country about it and related issues concerning our country and our democracy.”’

Stanger repeatedly stressed the importance of empathy, particularly for those with whom one might not agree. She encouraged her audience to use an open mind when engaging with those who are unlike them.

“I really think that you can be a positive force in the fight against racism and injustice by simply thinking for yourself, encouraging others to do the same and listening empathetically to those with whom you disagree,” Stanger said. “I would put it this way: bell curves don’t matter. Individuals do.”

Callanan spoke after Stanger on the panel. Reflecting on Murray’s visit and on his own experience as a professor, he described the college as “ideologically homogeneous” and a place where leftist politics often shape the curriculum, not unlike many of its peer institutions. Callanan criticized the behavior of some of his fellow faculty members in the lead-up to the protest.

“There are even some professors who see their role as mobilizing for left-wing political causes rather than seeking the truth,” Callanan said. “They are scholars in the same way Al Capone was a beverage distributor.” 

Callanan warned against pursuing inclusion through censorship, and stressed his belief that inclusivity can only be achieved through open inquiry. He cited the protest as an example of silencing speech in the name of inclusivity.

“Real academic inclusion in its fullest sense is inclusion in a community of truth-seeking through open inquiry,” Callanan said. “Freedom of inquiry is the value most emphatically under threat when speakers like Charles Murray are silenced or no-platformed,” he said. 

Since the protest, Stanger has publicly spoken about the incident several times, at universities, conferences, on television and in New York Times op-eds. Stanger also testified before the United States Senate about the protest, during which she condemned the actions of her colleagues in the Sociology/Anthropology Department, accusing them of rallying students to protest. The department chair, Michael Sheridan, in a letter to the editor published in The Campus, said her claim was untrue. 

Stanger’s public appearances, as documented in a March 2018 article in The Campus, have been a contentious subject among some members of the faculty. 

“I think that the story of what happened last year has cohered into a single dominant narrative, but overall I think there are other stories of what happened too and a lot of those other perspectives have not gotten into that dominant narrative, precisely because they’re small, they’re local, they’re personal, they’re not amplified on the national stage,” Sheridan told The Campus in March.

The Campus reached out to both Stanger and Callanan for comment on the Princeton lecture via email. When asked why they continue to speak publicly about the event, Stanger identified what she believes to be the gravity of current threats to freedom of speech as her main motivation. 

“Because I believe both freedom of expression and democracy are currently in grave danger, I am speaking out whenever given the opportunity,” she wrote in an email. “This authoritarian challenge is global. I am particularly concerned that many younger Americans do not seem to place their understanding of injustices in the United States in comparative and historical perspective. It is the job of educators to provide that broader context and to speak truth to power.”

Callanan said the panel was tied to Princeton first-year students’ summer reading. The students were assigned “Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech” by Keith Whittington.

When reached via email, neither Callanan nor Stanger said whether they were paid to speak on the panel.

The Sept. 14 discussion lasted for about an hour and a half in Princeton’s Arthur Lewis Auditorium. The other two panelists were Heather Heying and her husband Bret Weinstein, two former professors at The Evergreen State College. Weinstein was a prominent critic of the “Day of Absence” at Evergreen State, an event that requested white students and faculty members leave campus for the day. After he and Heying faced confrontations with students and accusations of racism, both professors resigned and sued the college. 

The talk was sponsored by the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, a program within Princeton University’s Department of Politics. A link to a video of the full panel discussion can be found with the online version of this article at

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article made a mistake in quoting Professor Callanan. The error has been corrected.