ROANOKE — A Northern Virginia political activist took to a conservative website to air her grievances regarding the “leftist propaganda” she says she witnessed at her son’s orientation at Virginia Tech.
Penny Nance, CEO and president of Concerned Women for America, wrote she no longer can ignore “the indefensible and discriminatory behavior of the liberal campus bullies” in her opinion piece “My Son’s Freshman Orientation At Virginia Tech Was Full Of Leftist Propaganda,” published Wednesday in the The Federalist, where she is listed as a contributor.
The university pushed back Thursday saying it doesn’t push a political agenda at orientation but rather focuses on providing a well-rounded education in and out of the classroom.
“We have students coming from all walks of life … and we are simply a reflection of that,” Tech spokeswoman Tracy Vosburgh said in Thursday afternoon interview.
Nance’s piece had hundreds of comments, reactions and shares alone on The Federalist Facebook page by Thursday afternoon.
Nance wrote she was disturbed by students and faculty stating their pronouns when introducing themselves, and listing those on their name tags.
Oftentimes, gender-neutral pronouns, such as “they,” are used by people who do not identify with “he” or “she,” or find those insufficient.
“Why should a public institution be allowed to violate teachers’ First Amendment rights by bullying them into using the made-up terms. … The reordering of centuries of grammar usage is an offensive overcorrection, and it bullies Christians, Muslims, and other students into violating their consciences to appease a small group of nonsensical identity politics warriors,” Nance wrote.
Virginia Tech published a statement Wednesday night from Vice President of Student Affairs Patricia Perillo that read in part, “Stating one’s gender pronoun is a personal decision. No one in the Virginia Tech community is required to do so.”
Perillo went on to write using gender neutral pronouns, in place of he or she, is becoming increasingly commonplace across society and that many students arrive on campus with that in mind.
“Accordingly, gender neutral pronouns have been created and are used in the interest of greater equality, dignity, and inclusion. This is an important aspect of our deep commitment to our students’ mental health and well-being,” she wrote.
Vosburgh reinforced Perillo’s points during an interview Thursday afternoon. She said not only is listing one’s pronouns optional at orientation, but there was also no pressure for any faculty or student to do so at university functions. She also said she doesn’t see using different pronouns as a partisan issue.
“But I do see it as everybody is coming at it in their own way and in their own time, so we are all at different places of either awareness or comfort with it,” she said.
Vosburgh said Nance reached out to the university following her family’s trip to campus in late July before the article was published with the expectation of getting to meet with Tech President Tim Sands to discuss her grievances. She was offered a phone conference with Vosburgh and Perillo because Sands was unavailable — but Nance declined the meeting, according to Vosburgh.
Nance also stated she was “shocked” from the start of orientation because opening statements talked about the two Native American tribes that occupied the land where the university now sits as opposed to talking about “the names of fallen cadets on the pylons [on campus] or the 32 dead and 17 injured in the 2007 shooting on Virginia Tech’s campus.”
Vosburgh said she believes the university does an excellent job of remembering victims of the deadly April 16, 2007, shootings.
“I think the care and respect to April 16 is extraordinary here. I don’t think there are any students left from that time but they still carry on an extraordinary tradition of respect and remembrance.”
Tech alumna Aubree Harrington took to her blog at www.adultingkinda.weebly.com to respond to Nance’s opinion on the orientation, stating Harrington believes Virginia Tech is determined to create an incredibly exciting and joyous orientation experience while also attempting not to be defined by its tragedy.
She also took exception with how Nance interpreted the pronoun issue during an interview Thursday afternoon.
“I thought what she was saying was completely the opposite of what Virginia Tech stands for. … The article clearly skewed and misinterpreted Virginia Tech’s action making it seem like they were unkind to all people and that’s the exact opposite of what they want to do,” said an emotional Harrington. “It’s to make people more comfortable and they don’t have to participate if they don’t want to.”
Nance was clear about her feelings on the matter, as she wrote: “As a mom, part of me wanted to load my son in the car and head up the road to Liberty University, but since he’s an adult, that wasn’t my choice to make. … Why should conservative kids be forced to become educational refugees from public institutions that, despite enjoying our tax dollars, don’t welcome us?” she wrote.
Concerned Women of America’s website states it’s “the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization” with more than “35 years of helping our members across the country bring Biblical principles into all levels of public policy.”
According to her work bio, Nance graduated from Liberty University and has appeared on a variety of major television networks “as a commenter on contemporary events and domestic issues.” She did not return multiple requests for comment.
Vosburgh said Tech has not received feedback on its orientation as much as it has about Nance’s article with people both agreeing and disagreeing with her message. Vosburgh said input from parents, students and alumni is taken seriously but doesn’t necessarily sway things such as the optional use of pronouns, which she said is more of a cultural issue than anything else.
Harrington said she doesn’t hold any ill will toward Nance; she just disagrees with her article’s premise.
“I don’t really relate with the left or the right. So as a Hokie, I just know what it means to be a good human.”