William & Mary President Condemns Students who Shut Down ACLU Free Speech Event

The President of William & Mary this week condemned the actions of protesters who shut down an ACLU free speech event that took place on campus September 27.

The Black Lives Matter group at the College of William & Mary derailed an on-campus event hosted by the ACLU on September 27. The event, which was titled “Students and the First Amendment,” was a lecture being offered by ACLU staffer and W&M alumnus Claire Gastañaga.

“Silencing certain voices in order to advance the cause of others is not acceptable in our community,” William & Mary President Taylor Reveley said in an initial statement on September 29. “This stifles debate and prevents those who’ve come to hear a speaker, our students in particular, from asking questions, often hard questions, and from engaging in debate where the strength of ideas, not the power of shouting, is the currency.”

Reveley addressed the protests again in a statement that was released on Thursday.

“The protestors were offered the opportunity to read a statement, which they did. They were then asked to let the speaker continue,” Reveley explained. “Again, they drowned her out. And when some students from the audience gathered around her on the stage in an effort to talk informally, the student protestors formed a circle around them and shouted them down too.”

He argued that students must be willing to hear view with which they disagree if they want to engage in critical thinking. “In my view, refusing even to hear ideas with which we disagree does nothing to sharpen our own capacity to combat them in a cogent, convincing fashion. I do not believe it is an effective way to push toward needed change,” he continued, adding that “it is very unlikely to persuade those with whom we disagree to consider the possibility that they might be mistaken.”

Reveley went on to argue that the violation of free speech principles undermines the academic mission of William & Mary. He added that those who participate in protest efforts that silence others will face disciplinary action up to and including suspension and dismissal from the university.

“Violation of these requirements, especially if they involve denial of other people’s First Amendment rights, seriously undermines William & Mary’s welfare,” Reveley argued. “Such violations have disciplinary consequences, with sanctions running up to and including suspension or dismissal from the university, depending on the scope and severity of an individual’s actions and prior disciplinary record.”

He said the protest has forced him to reexamine the public university’s policies on free speech. “I believe, too, our campus will benefit from a serious look at the First Amendment this academic year, including how it shapes the life of a public university,” he finished. “All views about what the [First] amendment does and does not protect will be welcome, as well as thoughts about its relevance for contemporary America. There are many such views. Let’s engage them.”


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