In the fall, a college professor stood before a podium at the National Conservatism Conference and delivered a speech that rejected feminism and suggested that men should be prioritized for certain fields of study.
“Every effort must be made not to recruit women into engineering, but rather to recruit and demand more of men who become engineers,” said Scott Yenor, a political science professor at Boise State University. “Ditto for med school, and the law, and every trade.”
The address ended with steady applause from the audience as Yenor gathered his notes and walked away. At Boise State, a different reaction began brewing as video of his speech circulated, sparking protests, outrage on social media and a statement from the Faculty Senate condemning Yenor’s remarks as misogynistic.
His message also reverberated through disciplines of law and medicine, as well as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), where many women face gender and racial discrimination.
For Ally Orr, a senior studying marketing at Boise State, Yenor’s speech was crushing: “He truly believes I don’t belong here,” she said, adding that it left her “so mad, and so embarrassed.”
In response to a request for comment about such criticism, Yenor said in an email statement: “A quick check of the record would show that I have never said anything ‘against women pursuing higher education.’ I did not say that in the particular speech. I have never said that in any of my public writings, which are numerous and widely available.”
Like other students, Orr, 22, shared her frustrations on social media. But it didn’t feel like the impact went far enough, she said. Then she came across a comment online: Someone should start a women’s scholarship in Yenor’s name, it read.
A few nights later, on Dec. 2, Orr sat in her dorm room and crafted an email. “As a female student at Boise State University, I was deeply disheartened to learn that a professor would discourage women from enrolling in higher education,” the message began. “As a result, I have created a GoFundMe to fund a scholarship for women pursuing STEM, medicine and law studies.”
Earlier that day, Orr had consulted with her parents and researched the criteria for establishing a scholarship at the school. It required a four-year commitment that totaled a $10,000 minimum award.
Orr hesitated. She started to question if people would care enough to donate, and the potential repercussions she could face for taking aim at Yenor’s comments.
“I’m going against a professor with a PhD and I don’t even have my bachelor’s degree yet,” Orr said, recalling her panic. “That power difference — that felt scary and threatening at first. But then I thought, ‘That’s why I have to do this, because who else is?’”
In the first email she sent around 10 p.m., Orr said she added 100 campus professors, faculty and staff as blind carbon copy recipients and hit send. She repeated these steps throughout the night, copying and pasting her plea, then firing it off to hundreds of BSU email addresses she had searched for online.
Finally, around 2 a.m., she said, she closed her laptop and went to bed. “I was tossing and turning the whole night,” Orr said. She feared that the emails would result in disciplinary action or that the fundraiser would flop.
But just as the sun began rising, Orr went online to discover she had already raised about $500. Around 10 a.m., it was more than $2,000. And by the end of the day, she said, she had raised $10,000.
After the fundraiser topped $25,000 three days after its launch and news outlets began reporting on the campaign, Orr said she realized, “Oh my God, this might really blow up.”
She was right. On Dec. 13, 11 days after the fundraiser began, Orr sat down in an administrative building on campus and signed an endowment agreement, officially establishing the Women in STEM, Medicine and Law Scholarship at Boise State.
The fundraising is still steadily rising. As of Jan. 20, Orr has raised more than $112,000.
The first recipient will be selected this spring, said Mike Sharp, a university spokesperson. “The endowed scholarship will award in perpetuity each academic year based on the growth of the fund,” he said.
Sharp added that the University Advancement vice president and associate vice president have been in direct contact with Orr to transition the scholarship fundraising to a Boise State PonyUp campaign.
“The scholarship office has been phenomenal in helping this happen because making a scholarship is such a complicated process,” Orr said, “especially making it through GoFundMe.”
Orr believes the fundraiser’s success, which attracted donors nationwide, is indicative of a larger push against anti-feminist rhetoric and misogyny. “People are donating because the problem didn't start with Scott, and it doesn't end with the scholarship,” she said.
In one comment on the GoFundMe page, a donor wrote: “Women belong wherever they want to be, in whatever career they want, in whatever role they feel best suits them. … Take up space and exist where you want to.”
Another donor’s message read: “As a woman with my BS in Engineering from Boise State, I am so glad this going to be a positive outcome from a horrible situation! Women belong in STEM!!!”
According to the American Association of University Women, women make up only 28 percent of the STEM workforce, and gender gaps are particularly high among two of its most fastest-growing and highest-paid sectors — engineering and computer science.
Recent census data shows women have made significant gains in STEM occupations, but they still remain underrepresented.
“More concerning is that women leave the STEM workforce at twice the rate of men,” said Meredith Gibson, interim chief executive at the Association for Women In Science, citing bias and harassment as leading factors. “Society has made some progress, but in some cases, we have driven overt harassment into more subtle forms of hostility and microaggressions.”
While the new BSU scholarship aims to support women who feel marginalized in these fields of study, Orr said she’s aware that some on campus feel it doesn’t go far enough in holding Yenor accountable. “I know people who are angry … saying, ‘We’re not doing enough,’” she said.
Sharp declined to comment on whether the professor faced any disciplinary action, saying “Boise State cannot comment on personnel matters.”
Orr is not deterred. One day, she said, she hopes to reach beyond her school community to launch a national scholarship for women: “I would love to start a second one, separate from Boise State that anyone in the country could apply to.”
In the meantime, as donations continue to pour in for the BSU scholarship, Orr has set a new goal in her sights: $150,000.
“I want this bigger,” she said. “We’re not stopping.”