For background on this post, read this one about Samantha Pfefferle, an incoming freshman at Marquette who made a pro-Trump TikTok video that caused her to be reviled and threatened by other Marquette students. Marquette administrators then called her to talk about her political views and, she told the College Fix, suggested that her admission as a freshman was not yet final and was “currently being decided by the administration.” This follow-up post was prompted by an email to me from Marquette’s Director of Communications asking me to update my post to reflect that Marquette has not revoked Ms. Pfefferle’s acceptance. I did so, and asked for an interview with one of the responsible officials at Marquette, but that request was met with silence.
We have now learned that yesterday, Mike Lovell, the President of Marquette, sent the following email to Marquette’s Board of Trustees. I will interpolate comments on the email:
TO: Members, Board of Trustees
FROM: Mike Lovell
I am writing with an update about a situation regarding Samantha Pfefferle, one of our incoming students, subsequent media coverage, and a clarification of the facts.
The new video social media app TikTok is gathering place for Gen Z (roughly age 25 and under) to share their politics, views, dance moves, jokes, etc. One of our incoming students has made numerous TikTok videos with conservative views. In one video, she dares people to report her to the “Marquette board of directors” while wearing a Marquette shirt. This video received nearly 300,000 views. In response, some people examined her other social media posts, finding examples of what they have deemed “transphobic and racist” posts.
This narrative is backwards, and misleading at best. Ms. Pfefferle posted the pro-Trump video that has gotten 600,000 views on June 7. This is the one that numerous Marquette students and others responded to with death threats and other abuse. (You can see that video here.
The video that Lovell refers to was posted five days later, on June 12. It responded generally to the Marquette students who were trying to get Pfefferle blackballed from the university, and in particular to a TikTok user called pablo.the.alien, who commented (I assume on the June 7 TikTok video) “Sending your page to the Marquette board of directors…guess I won’t be seeing you this fall!” Pfefferle responded by expressing confidence in Marquette’s commitment to freedom of speech and said that she would not be silenced. Here is the June 12 video:
Note how Lovell misleadingly portrayed Pfefferle as “dar[ing] people to report her to the ‘Marquette board of directors’ while wearing a Marquette shirt,” when in fact she was responding to a threat to have her blacklisted from the university by reporting her to the “Marquette board of directors.” He either never saw the video, or deliberately mischaracterized it. Further, his claim that “In response [to that video], some people examined her other social media posts, finding examples of what they have deemed ‘transphobic and racist’ posts” is false. It reverses the order of events, most likely in order to try to obscure the fact that many Marquette students and others associated with the university attacked Pfefferle viciously simply because she posted a pro-Trump video.
We at Marquette then received many messages and bias incident reports about the language she used in her posts.
What language is that? Note that neither here nor anywhere else does Lovell identify anything done by Pfefferle that was even remotely objectionable. I have watched all of the videos on her TikTok page–a painful exercise for one who is well outside TikTok’s intended demographic–and there is nothing there that any sane person would characterize as “racist” or “transphobic.” These are just the usual liberal smears against a teenager who dares to hold opinions different from theirs, and is not afraid to express them.
Here is an article about the trend at high schools and colleges around the country, especially in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
As is our practice when bias incidents are filed, Dean of Admissions Brian Troyer and Associate Dean of Students Erin Lazzar followed up by having a conversation with the incoming student. We did NOT rescind her offer nor was that even mentioned.
So, what did the Dean of Admissions and Associate Dean of Students say to Ms. Pfefferle about the “bias incident” they were investigating? Was her detailed description of the conversation to the College Fix in any way inaccurate? And if her admission to Marquette was not in some way on the table, why did she get a call from the Dean of Admissions?
Following this conversation, however, the incoming student conducted interviews with blogs and talk radio where she inaccurately says that we threatened to rescind her admission.
I haven’t heard the talk radio interviews, but what Pfefferle told the College Fix was that she was told her status as an admitted freshman was “currently being decided by the administration.”
Those blogs have been making the rounds for about a week, and one such link from powerlineblog.com has been more widely shared today. It is not a reputable news source and its main intention seems to be clickbait and advertising, but nonetheless this gained more widespread attention after Megyn Kelly tweeted it. This afternoon Donald Trump, Jr. retweeted an article from College Fix.
I am not sure why Lovell thinks we are not a “reputable news source,” since he didn’t purport to identify any errors in our commentary. The salient point is that Samantha Pfefferle described a conversation she had with Marquette administrators, and Marquette admits that such a conversation took place in the context of a “bias incident” investigation. Despite its harping on the word “rescind,” Marquette has not denied the gist of Pfefferle’s description.
Since then, we have received messages on social media, mostly from people with no affiliation with Marquette, who want to express their anger about us “rescinding” her offer of admissions. We did correct misinformation with blogs that were spreading blatant falsehoods, though some still continue to share inaccurate headlines, links, and social media posts. We are also replying to Marquette alumni and those with a Marquette affiliation letting them know of the inaccuracy of the reports. That has satisfied most of the people we have engaged in the Marquette community.
Notably absent from Lovell’s memo to Marquette’s Board of Trustees is any concern for an incoming student who was subjected to death threats, astonishing levels of abuse, and “many messages and bias incident reports” falsely accusing her of “racism” and “transphobia.” If Marquette’s leaders are opposed to this sort of bullying, merely because Pfefferle posted a 30-second video that is favorable to–let’s not forget–our duly elected incumbent president, there is no hint of any such concern in Lovell’s memo.
After consultation with our external crisis communication consultants…
…this afternoon we released the following statement:
Marquette University’s admissions decisions are made based on academic achievements and student involvement, not political views. Information circulating today from a blog that Marquette might rescind the admission of incoming freshman Samantha Pfefferle is false. Marquette has not rescinded her admissions offer.
Obviously, Samantha’s statement that she was told her admissions status was “currently being decided by the administration” is entirely different from the statement, which neither she nor we made, that her acceptance had been rescinded.
Concerns about this new student that were brought to the university’s attention were not based on political affiliation but on alleged use of discriminatory language.
But there was no such language. Marquette’s deans and assistant deans could have viewed her entire TikTok page in five minutes and verified that fact. She took outrageous abuse because she praised President Trump.
In this case, there were also concerns for the incoming student’s safety, which were investigated by the Marquette University Police Department and discussed with the incoming student.
Good to know, given the death threats. I guess Mike Lovell forgot to mention those concerns to the Board of Trustees, instead referring to Samantha Pfefferle throughout his memo as though she were some sort of disreputable character. I suppose it was the “external crisis communication consultants” who suggested they had better not forget entirely about her safety.
By their very nature, institutions of higher education are places of public dialogue and vigorous discourse about the most compelling issues of the day. The 500-year-old tradition of Catholic, Jesuit education is grounded in the discovery of knowledge and the sharing of diverse viewpoints – political or otherwise. Marquette takes this responsibility very seriously and prides itself on teaching our students how to think, not what to think. Through university-sponsored events, student organizations and myriad opportunities for engagement, diverse viewpoints from across the political spectrum are shared regularly with opportunity for discussion and the airing of a variety of viewpoints.
That’s what Samantha Pfefferle thought, but the video in which she expressed that belief was demeaned and mischaracterized by the university’s president.
I should add that this morning, Scott emailed Marquette’s Director of Communications and requested a retraction of President Lovell’s defamatory statements about Power Line. We will update when we get a response to that request.