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Invitation of author Abigail Shrier sparks campus controversy, Princeton GSRC responds with teach-in

<h5>Dr. AJ Eckert speaks at the GSRC teach-in.</h5>
<h6>Bailey Glenetske / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Dr. AJ Eckert speaks at the GSRC teach-in.
Bailey Glenetske / The Daily Princetonian

Abigail Shrier, the author of “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters,” spoke to University students on Wednesday, Dec. 8, in an event hosted by The Princeton Tory and the Princeton Open Campus Coalition (POCC) with support from The Witherspoon Institute and the Tikvah Fund.

In response to Shrier’s talk, the Princeton Pride Alliance, in collaboration with Princeton’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC), organized a teach-in as a way to “build a more inclusive campus community for transgender and non-binary students” and educate students on “how to serve as an ally in larger social and political movements.”

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During her talk, Shrier spoke about her experience authoring a book, which she acknowledges put her at “the center of controversy” and encouraged students to “reclaim [their] freedom” by being “unwilling to back down” from their views. She also espoused rhetoric denying transgender experiences and invalidating pronoun usage.

Students who attended were required by event organizers to RSVP in advance, and the event was limited in capacity in accordance with University COVID-19 protocols.

After a Dec. 2 tweet publicizing the event, Princeton students voiced concerns about the decision to bring a speaker to campus denounced by many on various social media platforms as transphobic.

Asked by The Daily Princetonian about campus reactions to the event, POCC President Myles McKnight ’23 wrote, “Several POCC and Tory members reported that they were verbally harassed by peers during the lead-up to the event. Some students felt threatened. The fact that students could not be open about their desire to attend the event without feeling attacked for their curiosity is an unfortunate indicator of an unhealthy climate surrounding open discourse on campus.”

Students additionally denounced the choice of event organizers to not disclose the location of the event prior to Wednesday or make the talk available on live-stream.

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“There were two competing interests — and good accompanying arguments — to be weighed in deciding whether to live-stream the event,” McKnight wrote in response to questions from the ‘Prince.’

“On the one hand, we felt that no live stream would prompt students to feel more comfortable raising serious and robust questions,” he wrote. “On the other hand, we felt that having some way to share the event with those who were unable to attend would enrich campus discourse by allowing a greater number of students to engage with the challenging material Mrs. Shrier presented.”

“Upon consideration, we did ultimately decide to record the event,” he continued. “My understanding is that the recording will be released on The Tory’s YouTube page in the coming days. Moreover, the full transcript of Mrs. Shrier’s speech is available publicly on her website.”

Shrier, a freelance journalist and Wall Street Journal opinion columnist, argues in her book that “coming out as transgender immediately boosts these girls’ social status,” according to the book description. The description claims that she intends to teach parents how to “inoculate” their daughters against the “trans craze,” or “retrieve her from this dangerous path.”

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Shrier did not respond to requests for comment.

The GSRC event, which was held concurrently with the Shrier event, featured a conversation and Q&A with Dr. AJ Eckert, a medical professional who specializes in gender-affirming care for teenagers. Eckert, an assistant clinical professor for Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University, also serves as the medical director of the Gender Affirming Medicine program at Anchor Health Initiative in Hamden, Conn.

“I was very concerned about [the book by Shrier] because it contained a lot of scientific inaccuracies, things that were not evidence-based,” Eckert said at the event.

Eckert went on to cite a partial review that they, as well as other prominent medical professionals in the field, penned on Shrier’s book, criticizing it for its arguments supporting the “den[ial of] equitable healthcare for trans youth.” They said the review also serves to “elucidate the historical and current medicalization of trans identities.”

Ariana Myers, a Ph.D. candidate in Princeton’s history department, also spoke at the GSRC/Pride Alliance event on the history of transgender experience.

“Nowadays, it is a commonplace to hear it said that being transgender is a ‘new’ phenomenon, a trend, something that will soon fade away,” Myers said. “It is an irony not to be missed that that exact same thing was said of being gay and bisexual in the decades before this.”

Myers, a transgender woman, said that the event had 42 student attendees, stating that the turnout demonstrated great support for the LGBTQ+ community. She also expressed disappointment with the Shrier event in an interview with the ‘Prince.’

“Exasperation would be the emotion I would use to describe it,” Myers said. “I thought we were past this; I thought that we didn't need to keep having this conversation over and over and over. I'm also just a little bit disappointed that certain students would try to foster a conversation based on false premises, instead of trying to be open and honest.”

Myers also added that “any members of the campus community who identify as trans, non-binary, or are questioning their gender [can] reach out to be added to the listserv for the gender group. We've fostered a really supportive and wonderful community, and I want to make sure that everyone knows that it's available.”

GSRC director Kristopher Oliveira said that the center is “proud” of the teach-in, given that its work focuses on “advocating for equitable and affirming campus and community spaces for the students that we serve.”

“We believe that opportunities to uplift our sense of shared humanity (as well as opportunities to learn about rigorous scholarship for and about women, femme, queer and trans people) contributes to a more equitable and affirming campus community for all Princeton students,” he wrote.

An attendee of Shrier’s talk spoke to the ‘Prince’ under the condition of anonymity.

“The [Tory] publisher emailed the Tory group on [Dec. 3] with a calendar invitation, while the rest of the attendees had to contact the publisher to RSVP,” they claimed. “We got no information, just that it was Shrier [speaking]. The location was sent about an hour before the event.”

“Given security concerns, among other considerations, we ask that you do not share the event location,” read the email, which was obtained by the ‘Prince.’ The email also directed any media inquiries received by attendees to Adam Hoffman ’23, publisher of The Princeton Tory and one of the event organizers. Hoffman did not respond to a request for comment from the ‘Prince’ following the event.

“The event was held at the Witherspoon Institute, and at the beginning of the event, Adam said that there were 35 attendees. I think it was mostly members of The Tory in attendance,” the attendee claimed. “The speech lasted about 35 minutes, I would say, followed by a Q&A.”

The ‘Prince’ was not able to independently verify these details.

Shrier highlighted in the speech her background as a former Columbia, Oxford, and Yale Law School-educated lawyer, noting that she “wrote the book not because I believed the fancy institutions I’d attended would celebrate me, or even acknowledge me, after I had done so.”

She went on to encourage students to avoid “being the Left’s star pupil.”

“I know why students keep their heads down,” she said. “They are hoping for that Goldman or New York Times internship, which they don’t want to put in jeopardy.”

During the Q&A portion of the event, Shrier reportedly addressed its secretive nature and called into question whether U.S. universities uphold free speech ideals.

“Any institution that takes our brightest, most capable young people and tells you that you can only work here if you think like we tell you and keep your mouth shut ― that isn’t really Goldman Sachs, and that isn’t really the paper of record. It’s the husk of a once-great institution, and it’s not worth grasping for,” she said.

Shrier allegedly spoke further on the limited capacity of the event imposed by organizers.

“This is pathetic. Don’t accept this,” she reportedly said. “What the hell am I doing off campus? You know what? They won. Why? Because there’s 35 people, and there were hundreds who wanted to attend.”

Marc Schorin ’22, as part of the student response to the Shrier event, organized the distribution of flyers denouncing her presence and rhetoric under the Revolutionary Student Action (RSA) group, a communist organization unaffiliated with the GSRC.

Schorin told the ‘Prince,’ “The reaction [by students] as a whole speaks to a growing consciousness among undergraduates of social dynamics in general. [These] underclassmen seem more socially aware now than my grade was when we were freshmen or sophomores. It can be quite difficult to mobilize the undergraduate body, but I think that’s changing, slowly.”

“I think the decision to invite Shrier to campus strikes me as pretty regular for [The Tory and POCC]. They don’t support scholarly debate, and I think it just speaks to their attempts to provoke the student body. They seek to endanger and further marginalize [trans and LGBT+ students, and] we will give our arguments backed by research, by science,” he said.

The ‘Prince’ asked Hoffman and McKnight about the GSRC teach-in that was organized in response to their event.

“I’m glad that the GSRC and the Princeton Pride Alliance hosted a teach-in,” McKnight wrote. “I hope that those in attendance deepened their understanding, in some way, of the issues at hand. I also hope that those students came away from the event with further questions for study and reflection, and that the event prompted a genuine curiosity to learn more about trans issues.”

Bailey Glenetske is a news contributor for the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at baileyglenetske@princeton.edu or @bailey.glenetske on Instagram.

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