College campuses are known for radicalism—but more and more mainstream colleges are bending to identity politics and woke activism. Recently, Penny Nance, the president and CEO of Concerned Women for America, attended her son’s student orientation at Virginia Tech, where gender ideology was a dominant theme—pronouns and all. Read the interview, posted below, or listen on the podcast:
We also cover these stories:
- Attorney General William Barr has removed the acting chief of the Bureau of Prisons in the wake of Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide.
- Planned Parenthood will not follow the new Title X regulations, and will no longer receive tens of millions of government funding.
- President Donald Trump is calling for a lawsuit against Google.
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Kate Trinko: So joining us today in studio is Penny Nance. She is president and CEO of Concerned Women for America. Thanks for joining us.
Penny Nance: Thanks for having me. It’s always great to be here at The Heritage Foundation, The Daily Signal, these are my peeps for sure.
Trinko: We love having you.
So, you are also a mom and you recently went to freshman orientation at Virginia Tech where your son is going and you wrote about it for The Federalist. Tell us what you saw there.
Nance: Well, I should first lead by saying that this is my second child to go to college. My first kid went to Liberty University and it was a totally different experience, let me just say.
But I have a son who’s a math and science guy who wants to study engineering. We are from the great state of Virginia and my son is military bound and wants to be a member of the Corps of Cadets, and who wouldn’t? Because let me just tell you, it is fantastic. That’s where it gets real. Those people are unbelievable. It’s an unbelievable opportunity.
The Corps of Cadets at Virginia Tech is 1 of 6 senior military academies. It is really fantastic. I can’t say enough good about the Corps of Cadets. My beef, though, is with the administration of Virginia Tech, but they’re not alone. I’m singling them out because I experienced it firsthand. This is happening all over the country. This was just my wake-up call.
So, I take my son to freshman orientation and my first tip-off should’ve been when at the beginning … and, by the way, I’m not a complete rube, I know that it’s not a Christian school and we’re not going to open in prayer, although I have heard of some, I think it was Auburn and some others have, but I didn’t expect that.
But let’s remember that this is a fine military institution in that they have a great military history. They have a memorial in the middle of their campus, their centerpiece is their drill field, and they have a memorial listing the cadets who have died, every cadet that’s died since World War I. So it’s very much a part of their DNA.
Trinko: That’s really nice that they do that.
Nance: It is, it’s awesome. And then another thing is, it is, sadly, the site of the most deadly school shooting in the nation. So, what I would expect, if we’re going to take a moment to reflect on something … important, it would have been one of those things. But no, no, that’s not what we reflected on.
We instead took a moment to recognize the two Indian tribes on whose lands we sat because we stole it, I guess. I don’t know. That was the inference. There’s been an op-ed since to remind me of the history, like, yeah, that’s it.
I’m like, OK, even if you think that, and maybe that’s true, I don’t know maybe that is true, but … if we have a moment to reflect on something serious in orientation, is that where we should go? I would think those other two issues would have been more timely and important and those weren’t dealt with at all.
Trinko: Not even once.
Nance: Not at all. So then you move into orientation and I understand you want it to be upbeat, but it took this immediate turn left from the very beginning, from the first moments in which everyone stood up. And there was between, I lost track, 10 and 20 people that during those couple of hours stood up, introduced themselves, their name and their preferred pronoun, every single part.
At first parents were like, “OK, that’s surprising or whatever.” By the end it’s so heavy-handed that they’re looking at each other, rolling their eyes, they’re annoyed, they’re sighing. And as we’re leaving I’m hearing their remarks to each other like, “I cannot believe that just happened.”
By the way, the parents and the kids are almost immediately separated. So later in the day they have the kids in groups of 10. And this didn’t happen in every group, it didn’t happen in my son’s group, but now I’m starting to get responses because of my piece. And more stories are coming out in which all the kids were asked to introduce themselves and, again, give their preferred pronoun.
So, most of the kids being 17-, 18-year-old kids are … coerced into it. Of course they’re going to submit because they’re new, and they don’t want to get singled out, and they don’t want to say the wrong thing.
But then you hear stories like one kid said, “Well, I prefer either ‘sir’ or ‘your highness.’ I’m really comfortable with either one.” In which the kids all burst into laughter because they get it. They understand that this is ridiculous and they understand also that there are people who truly and sincerely struggle with gender dysphoria and we want to love them and be kind to them.
We are pro-life. We think there’s intrinsic value in every human life at Concerned Women for America and we want to love and be kind. But at the same time, when you have this indoctrination that’s happening not just on the university level but in high school, middle school, starting even as young as elementary school, and at some point you’ve got to speak up and you’ve got to point out that we are asking an ideological question …
I forgot to mention that the kids, and I didn’t even know this until I got there, were asked while they were registered for orientation to submit to the school their preferred pronoun, and it wasn’t very obvious. We went back and looked. It wasn’t really obvious, but it ended up being printed on their lanyard, on their badge that hung around their necks. …
Trinko: The key question is did the “your highness” kid have it printed?
Nance: I don’t know.
Trinko: That would be great.
Nance: No, I don’t think you could do that. I think you had like a limited amount. Because there’s 60 genders, how are you going to …
Trinko: They think it stops at 60?
Nance: I don’t think that had all 60.
Trinko: That sounds really not open-minded to me.
Nance: That is exclusionary, actually, when you identify as “your highness,” what are you supposed to do? I don’t know. Or “princess,” I don’t know. I like that one.
But the issue is you have kids that are asked an ideological question and their response to me at Virginia Tech is, “Well, no one was forced.” I’m like, “No, nobody was threatened with violence, but you certainly coerced them.”
These are kids that aren’t prepared to have this conversation, nor should they be forced to have this conversation or coerced into this conversation.
This is a very private matter that they should be having with a health professional, with their parents, with their pastor, with a rabbi, with people that can actually help them, a counselor, help them sort through things without just immediately exposing something that’s very personal to the university. They have no right to ask the question.
Daniel Davis: You mentioned some of the parents were hemming and hawing like, “Oh, this is ridiculous.” Did they actually complain? Did the parents actually [go] forward and object to this?
Nance: They weren’t really given an opportunity because the questions throughout the day, the opportunity to ask questions, were only written note cards. Because I was ready. I was going to ask, raise my hand, and I guarantee you if I had there would have been a bunch of parents behind me saying, “Yeah, what was that about? I wasn’t comfortable with that. We’re Muslim or we’re Orthodox Jew and that is in direct contradiction to our faith.”
But no one was able to ask that question, certainly not publicly. Maybe there was a private one. …
Something I wanted to mention here is that we have put together an email address for parents to submit their stories either from Virginia Tech or around the country. We won’t provide your name unless you want us to, but we will provide your story. Because parents are experiencing this all over the nation and they’re deeply concerned about what’s happening. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
I mentioned that in The Federalist piece and I’ve had an onslaught of people sharing their stories and just deeply concerned about what’s happening.
Trinko: You mentioned that they separated the parents and the students almost right away at orientation, and you indicated that, I assume, in comparing notes with your son that it seemed like parents were maybe hearing one thing and students were hearing another. Could you detail that?
Nance: Well, and then there was a couple of issues, and I heard this actually before I got there. I was warned about this, that they get the heavy-handed diversity talk, which I kind of expected. This was just more than I expected.
Again, I knew I wasn’t sending my kid to a Christian school. I was very clear on what the differences are, that this is a public institution. They are the math and science school, but they all lean left now and it’s not going to be the same. But even on the issues, in the world of #MeToo, the issues of alcohol, I think, there was sort of … the parents were told basically zero tolerance, and no underage drinking, and not being over-served.
And then the kids are given another story that like, “Well, you’re not going to get arrested for it.” To the point where one of the kids actually clarified, like, “Is this in line with the law?” And they were like, “Well … ”
Then, as the parents are sent off to bed—we were dismissed earlier in the evening and the kids go to late—they bring in someone from the diversity track to say, “Don’t make judgments about the gender or the sexual identity of the person that you’re talking to. School is a place to experience new things and you need to be open-minded.”
And we’re told as parents, “Your kid may come home different.” And that’s when parents were like, “What do you mean by that?”
We understand that, we believe that school is a place where you learn, where you learn from each other, where you have discussions about ideology, and about literature, and art, and science, and all the important things. And you do need to be open-minded, I don’t care where you’re at. You need to be to have a kind, civil conversation because you can learn from each other.
But it’s a different story when you have the school imposing, essentially, a speech code on what that’s going to look like.
I trust the kids enough that I think they would work it out among each other. We’ve raised our kids to be respectful and kind. And I truly believe that, at least the way I raised my children and everybody else that I know taught our kids to be kind and loving. And on a one-on-one basis, how you refer to each other, what you decide to say, I think, is a deeply personal decision that the school doesn’t need to enter into.
Now, I would back up and say no one should be harassed or bullied. Apparently, they don’t feel that same thing for conservatives who disagree with their policies, but we can all stand together and say, “Let’s be kind. Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as Christ has forgiven you.” That’s what Christians believe.
Davis: How did your son respond to this kind of language coercion?
Nance: My kid is pretty apolitical and, again, he’s a math and science guy. My daughter, on the other hand, is much more like me.
This is a kid that wants to study engineering. He doesn’t want to participate. He has his own opinion. It’s not going to impact him at all.
… And I got his permission before I shared the story. I would never do that without getting permission from my kids. Whenever I talk about them, and I think most parents who are in the public eye do that, hopefully, they should.
But the bigger issue is, as the taxpayers, what are we paying for? And as a parent, are we literally paying [for] the indoctrination of our kids?
Now, we all risk our kids leaving the nest and coming back differently. OK, that’s fair. They’re going to do that, it’s going to be different. They have to decide for themselves. There has to be an inculcation of their own faith, of their own belief system. It is healthy and it is right.
But again, you do not need the institution that your kid’s involved in coming down with a heavy hand in imposing a system of beliefs, coercing, bullying them into subjection [to] those beliefs. That’s a different story.
Trinko: It’s interesting because in your piece in The Federalist, you used the term, I believe it was “educational refugees,” and I found that interesting because just as you said, I think, especially conservative men who want to study math and science and conservative women who want to, it is harder.
A lot of these smaller conservative colleges, I’m a liberal arts major, they’re great for that. They don’t have a …
Nance: Or public policy or …
Trinko: Right. So many fields. But they don’t tend to have the hard sciences, the STEM, and I know that that’s been a problem that’s been discussed in my circles for years.
Anyway, I just was wondering, was this the problem for your son and for other conservatives that they couldn’t find a conservative place … ?
Nance: Well, there’s a couple things. One is, again, I love Liberty University. They’re starting a new school of engineering and building this beautiful building. They’re going to very quickly catch up.
But if you’re in the state of Virginia, and every state has their own institution, their math and science school, for right now, that’s where he wanted to attend. And, of course, it’s a military tradition.
As upset as I am about the administration, I can’t say enough good about the Corps of Cadets. It is timeless and it is essential, and they are making men and women leaders out of these kids that are walking in and they are going to be the military leaders of our nation. They are going to be the very top tier of our military and God bless them because we need them.
I think there’s a lot of history, and character building, and just important lessons that are going to be passed on and I am so excited about that piece of it. But that’s almost like a school within the school.
The president of Virginia Tech, and I don’t think this is odd but I think that parents need to be aware of who’s heading up their institution. The president of Virginia Tech is a Berkeley grad from San Francisco who was voted in under the Terry McAuliffe governorship. Elections have consequences.
Davis: … You actually requested a meeting with him, I understand.
Nance: I did.
Davis: Did he respond? Did you get anyone at Virginia [Tech’s] administration?
Nance: Yeah. This is the other thing. The two things they’ve said in response is, one, that no one was forced. And I said, “Well no threat of violence, but they were coerced.” And the other thing is they said that they reached out to me.
The truth is that I reached out to the president of the university twice and the regent. And the president’s office didn’t even respond at all. I got an innocuous email back from the regent’s office and then a low-level employee offered to let me speak with the diversity dean.
Trinko: Which is telling that they even have a diversity dean.
Nance: Yeah, which we looked it up and we’re like, “Well, that’s not going to be helpful.” But regardless, I shouldn’t have to. I run the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization and I am a parent. But let’s just put all that aside. I had a sincere question. I wanted to understand his thinking, what was going on, and he couldn’t be bothered.
So, after reaching out and really trying, I wasn’t going to be patted on the head and dismissed so I took it public. I wonder, if we’d had that conversation, if maybe some of this could have been saved. But we’ll never know because he refused to have that conversation with me, and I don’t think pawning me off on his lower-level staff was going to be helpful.
Trinko: What do you think the big picture answer is here? I’m sure that if Virginia Tech is doing it, there are other universities doing preferred pronouns now. How do you think parents and students can fight back?
Nance: I mentioned in the article really three things. First, as I mentioned earlier, share a story with … email@example.com. So, we have your stories. We can continue to advocate for you.
The second thing is, contact your state legislature, your state legislators. Contact them because most of the government money comes through the state, although, there are federal dollars, but this is really who holds the purse strings for much of these institutions.
Of course, there’s private fundraising and all of that, but this is important. One sentence in an appropriations bill, a prohibition on the use of our money in this way, and it’d be over. So, in Virginia, we’re looking at how to lean into that message for this assembly and also the Senate.
The third thing is to reach out and make your voice heard to the administration of your school, whatever that is. Whether it’s the school board on a local county level or whether it’s the president’s office for a university. There is power in speaking up. There is power in speaking truth to power.
We’re afraid, and I have to tell you it is scary, you don’t want your kid, and this is what parents face, they don’t want their kid to be punished, they don’t want them to be bullied, they’re afraid.
But I would say we really only have two choices. This is a freight train coming down the tracks and either we blow up the tracks now, or we just get out of the way and let it go. And then we do have to basically become refugees to these other schools or just cede our children over to the left.
We either speak up or we let it go, we lose it. We’re at this moment where we have to speak up, meet it head-on, or it’s too late. And we’re almost there. We’re right there on the tipping point for public education. So, I would say, really, those are your choices.
Trinko: What has the response online been? Have activists attacked you? Have there been threats to name your son and involve him even though you’re the one who wrote this?
Nance: Of course, of course. Because the university has not been helpful at all in this matter. Yes, my son has been threatened online. Of course, I’m called every name you could possibly think of, and I expect that.
His likeness was doxed, his picture was put out there, and direct threats were made against him. And it’s just overwhelming. I can’t even tell you how that feels, but I, again, come back to the idea that we are called to tell the truth.
And if I am paralyzed by fear, then literally nobody else can speak with all the resources I have, with all the women activists around me, with the legal resources that we have. If I can’t speak up, then no parent can speak up. …
Even when I dropped my son off I had a woman recognize me and come up and say, “Are you Penny Nance?” And I said, “Yes.” And she said with a wavering [voice], “Thank you for writing what you did. I didn’t know how to say what I was feeling but I was able to forward your piece over to the president’s office.”
So, this is why they’re mad. This is why they’re pushing back, because now they’ve been exposed and I’m not the only one to say the emperor has no clothes. I’m not the only one to notice the emperor has no clothes, I was just the first one to say it. And others now are saying, “She’s right, she’s right. I can’t pretend anymore.”
Davis: There are so many others who are thinking it and not acting on it. So, if they can be enabled to stand up, you don’t know what kind of impact you’ll have.
Nance: And you are emboldened, right? You’re emboldened when other people say something and you’re like, “Yes, that’s right.” But it is uncomfortable to be the first one to say it.
And I shouldn’t say that because that’s really not even true. There have been women fighting all over this country more on the local level, more dealing with middle school issues and elementary school issues. We’re seeing lawsuits start to happen over bathroom use, and locker room use, and teachers being fired [over] speech codes coming down.
But this is a First Amendment issue. This is about freedom of speech and freedom of religion. So, I wasn’t fully aware because I had been fortunate enough to have my kids in this little cloistered environment of Christian school, and suddenly it’s like the blinders came off. I see what’s happening.
On a different venue, someone was telling me that Franklin Graham has suggested that parents in New Jersey who have mandatory education on these issues for their kids—I think all the way down perhaps to elementary school, I’m not sure about that—but has suggested that Christian parents might need to either homeschool or put their kids in Christian school.
And I said, “Hey, I love Franklin Graham and I have been so blessed by that, but it’s not that simple.” A lot of parents can’t do that. … For instance, one of my friends has a son with significant learning issues, and I don’t know a single Christian school that would be equipped to teach him. They don’t have the resources. So, that’s not a simple answer.
I think that what’s more helpful is [for] the taxpayers to bind together and say, “This is not a good use of our money. Let’s teach core arithmetic. Let’s teach the math and sciences. We want more women in math and science. Let’s help them get there in STEM. Let’s pour more resources into that. Let’s help our kids learn and be ready and be prepared for the workforce, whatever that is.”
Trinko: Given the test scores, it appears that maybe spending less time on social justice and more on the three R’s would help America’s kids a lot.
But thank you so much for coming on, Penny Nance, again, of Concerned Women for America. Another reminder that there is no doubt that the left uses education to get kids.