Williams College Group Disinvites Conservative Speaker After Protests

A student group at Williams College disinvited a conservative speaker after students protested the invitation.

Williams College is a small liberal arts college in Massachusetts known for exclusivity and its purple cow mascot. Recently, a student run group known as “Uncomfortable Learning,” which seeks to invite speakers to campus whose views are likely to be at odds with the majority of the student body, invited conservative feminist author Suzanne Venker to campus.

Venker’s talk, originally scheduled to take place yesterday, was going to be titled, “One Step Forward, Ten Steps Back: Why Feminism Fails.” Last Friday, after students protested her invitation, Venker was disinvited. According to a report at the Williams Record, two of the organizers, Matthew Hennessy and Didier Jean-Michel, were, “personally harassed over Facebook private messages and ‘heckled’ on campus.”

Venker wrote a piece for Fox News describing how she sensed trouble brewing when, shortly before being disinvited, she received an email from the student group, saying, “We’ve been advertising the event, and it’s already stirring a lot of angry reactions among students on campus.” Venker blames the decision to disinvite her on the rise of call-out culture, which she says, “encourages students to see opposing points of view (read: any argument that’s right of center) as potential threats to their well being.”

Indeed, the Williams Record published a vacillating editorial Wednesday which suggested Venker’s speech might have led to “emotional injury”:

While free speech is important and there are problems with deeming speech unacceptable, students must not be unduly exposed to harmful stereotypes in order to live and learn here without suffering emotional injury. It is possible that some speech is too harmful to invite to campus. The College should be a safe space for students, a place where people respect others’ identities. Venker’s appearance would have been an invasion of that space.

Zach Wood, another student member of the Uncomfortable Learning group, wrote a piece criticizing the student reaction and quoting a Facebook message in which someone claimed inviting Venker to speak was tantamount to dipping his hands in the blood of social justice revolutionaries:

When you bring a misogynistic, white supremacist men’s rights activist to campus in the name of “dialogue” and “the other side,” you are not only causing actual mental, social, psychological, and physical harm to students, but you are also—paying—for the continued dispersal of violent ideologies that kill our black and brown (trans) femme sisters. You are giving those who spout violence the money that so desperately needs to be funneled to black and brown (trans) femme communities, to people who are leading the revolution, who are surviving in the streets, who are dying in the streets. Know, you are dipping your hands in their blood, Zach Wood.

Wood writes in response, “the ad hominem diatribe in this article’s opening quotation criminalizes freedom of thought, typifies progressive ideological absolutism, fuels motivated ignorance, and corrodes intellectual humility.”

Not everyone agrees that the protesters went too far on the basis of dubious claims of psychological harm. A member of the Feminist Collective board told the Record, “When someone says these students are hypersensitive, it is writing off their perspective as not being legitimate, which is exactly the opposite of what Uncomfortable Learning claims to strive for.”


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