Patterico's Pontifications


College Group Dedicated To Exposing Students To Uncomfortable Viewpoints, Cancels Guest Speaker Because Students Felt Uncomfortable

Filed under: General — Dana @ 5:53 pm

[guest post by Dana]

For $63K per year (including room and board), students at the liberal arts Williams College can be involved in the Uncomfortable Learning organization which seeks to “encourage students to understand and engage with often provocative and uncomfortable viewpoints that oppose perceived popular opinions at the College.” Sounds exactly like what every college and university in America, home of the brave and land of free speech, needs.

Except we know that noble goals like this are easily rendered moot in the face of childlike protesters spewing their word vomit. We’ve seen it happen again and again… Because when you get right down to it, the very last place free speech flourishes, in all its righteous and offensive glory, is on the American college campus.

Suzanne Venker, author of Why Feminism Fails and The War on Men, was scheduled to speak as part of the Uncomfortable Speaker series, but was uninvited several days before her scheduled appearance.

Cue the usual fearful flowers: students protested Venker’s appearance, claiming she was misogynistic and homophobic.

Organizers justified their selection of Venker:

The leaders of Uncomfortable Learning chose Venker as a speaker because they anticipated that she would challenge students and make them examine their own opinions in an intellectually stimulating manner. Hennessy said that the choice was representative of the group’s effort to promote an “intellectually and academically open environment” on campus.

“We chose [Venker] because millions of Americans think her viewpoints carry weight, or even agree with her,” said Hennessy. “We think it’s important to get an understanding of why so many Americans do think these really interesting and difficult thoughts, so we can challenge them and better understand our own behaviors and our own thoughts.”

Unfortunately, the Venker selection made students too uncomfortable. A Facebook page was started for protesters, and according to its organizer:

[The] goal of the protests was not to have the event shut down, but rather to express dissent from Venker’s ideas. According to her, many protestors had planned to attend the event and to engage with Venker during the question-and-answer session.

“The point of the event was not to censor her beliefs,” said O’Brien. “It was our rightful emotional and political reaction to something that has been harmful to many groups of people.”

Sam Alterman ’18 helped organize the protest and participated in discussions on both Facebook event pages. He said that the protestors were not seeking to censor Venker but rather disagreeing with the decision to provide her with a platform.

“No one has asked for her writing to be blocked on Purple Air [campus internet],” he said. “We were dissenting from the idea that she is someone we should elevate to a level where we feel that her point of view is relevant enough and intellectually rigorous enough to bring to campus, associate [the College’s] name with her, and give her money.”

The Uncomfortable Learning organizers capitulated because they felt harassed. They also believed students had chosen “demonization” of Venker over any possible productive discussion.

Whether one fears being heckled by their peers or fears being confronted by an opposing view, it’s clear that provocative thought and productive discussion are no longer embraced. Their appearance threatens the very existence of the delicate house of cards that young people dwell in these days. Most telling, though, is that none of these young, college-educated people seems to understand that the only way to effectively counter the stifling duo of fear and ignorance is through more speech, not less.

It’s a long shot, but maybe one of them will read Venker’s response to the cancellation and find themselves feeling ashamed as it dawns on them that it is they who are the real enemies of free speech. What a life-changing epiphany that would be!

Funny, ‘uncomfortable’ is the exact word I used in the opening remarks of the speech I’d prepared—before I even knew the title of the speaking series. Here’s the exact paragraph:

My goal for you all, my purpose in being here today, is to inspire you to think for yourselves. Do not be swayed by groupthink no matter what your friends, your family or the culture believe. Do not be afraid to ask yourself questions that may make you uncomfortable. And do not be afraid of the answers.

From there I had planned to talk about feminism, but from a different perspective than the one students are used to hearing. I was going to tell them why feminism fails. (Hint: because it denies the existence of biology and teaches that equality means sameness, which is a losing proposition when it comes to planning a life—particularly if that life includes marriage and family.)

Despite the fortuitous match between my message and the ‘Uncomfortable Learning Speakers Series,’ my talk was cancelled by the group several days prior to the event.

That I was passed over is not the concern, though. What is of concern, what should be of concern to all of us, is a new kind of progressive climate that pervades America’s campuses. It even has a name: the “call-out culture.”

The “call-out culture” encourages students to see opposing points of view (read: any argument that’s right of center) as potential threats to their well being and forces groups, such as the Uncomfortable Learning Speaking Series at Williams College, to disinvite or shut down guest speakers whose views are deemed by the campus thought police as intolerable.

Some schools actually set up “safe spaces” for students who are overwhelmed by being confronted with ideas they find hurtful. That would be funny if it weren’t so sad.


50 Responses to “College Group Dedicated To Exposing Students To Uncomfortable Viewpoints, Cancels Guest Speaker Because Students Felt Uncomfortable”

  1. Hello.

    Dana (86e864)

  2. Oh, do I have stories. This is pretty real.

    I highly recommend this essay, which gets to the real problem: teaching fear, dependency, and victimhood.

    Campus is an odd place.

    I had a discussion with a young female scientist on Twitter recently who insisted to me that racism and sexism were as bad as they were “100 years ago.”

    I just bowed out of the conversation. I didn’t feel like pointing the obvious. Academic culture is pretty toxic.

    But when a person can say something like that, does the Tom Wolfe “Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers” approach seem odd?

    I’m pretty sure a lot of students don’t believe in all this; they are using it to their advantage.

    I know the administrators are.

    Simon Jester (c8876d)

  3. Glenn REynolds has a pretty good column on this topic today.

    But take heart, would-be patriarchs. Because that’s all going to change. The Western values that, as Edwards notes, make feminism and complaints about the patriarchy possible are pretty much unique, and they’re not likely to last long in their current form if trends continue.

    In academia, we have a saying: Personnel is policy. If your history department hires a bunch of Marxists, you’ll have a Marxist history department. If the law school hires a bunch of law-and-economics types, you’ll have a law-and-economics based law school. And because most people tend to stay for a long time, and because people tend to hire people like themselves, those changes will be long-lasting.

    Which brings me to the unprecedented mass-migration being experienced at present by Europe and, to a lesser degree, by the United States. Hundreds of thousands of people — soon, it seems likely to be millions — are coming from countries where the patriarchy really is a thing. These are places where honor killings, female genital mutilation and the legal and social subordination of wives and daughters to husbands and fathers are considered the norm. (The Dutch are already getting upset about the Syrian refugees who are bringing child brides with them.)

    Ooops !

    Mike K (90dfdc)

  4. Wow! That is an elite school. Amazing numbers from SATs, to faculty to student ratio, to an endowment of $1 million per student, to ranked Number 1 in colleges by Forbes. I think it could get away with the occasional burning of a heretic or witch, let alone protesting a speaker.

    nk (dbc370)

  5. Oh nk, just think what a narrow-minded insulated prig you would be! That look is attractive on no one.

    Dana (86e864)

  6. nk,

    US News rates Williams as the #1 liberal arts school in the nation.

    Kevin M (25bbee)

  7. I wonder what colleges would do if a Cruz administration conditioned federal funds on a demonstrated ideological balance.

    Kevin M (25bbee)

  8. They ranked Williams first in the category of Best gor Veterans, whatever that means.

    Going down the complete list, the three service academies are in the top 30. Which is a bit bizarre to call them liberal arts schools, but I suppose the category simply means “not part of a full university”.

    On the list of universities, my own alma mater is tied with Georgetown for 21st. Glad to see all the money I paid back then went to something….

    kishnevi (31ba4e)

  9. Best*for* Veterans

    kishnevi (31ba4e)

  10. Its alumni include President Garfield, George and Hal Steinbrenner (Yankees), Reza Palahvi (Shah Jr.), Elia Kazan (Greek refugee/moviemaker) and Richard Helms (CIA director).

    Elites tend to be elitist. I’m betting that everyone of those kids there knows that he or she is brighter than Suzanne Venker, with great expectations, and that played the largest part in keeping her out.

    nk (dbc370)

  11. What a great post, and what irony.

    Patterico (86c8ed)

  12. Once middle America turned over their spawn to government schools and union teachers to be educated, pardon I mean indoctrinated the slide toward communism was insured. Now they act surprised? Screw’em, they’re getting what they deserve.

    Rev. Barack Hussein Hoagie™ (f4eb27)

  13. Liberal arts includes the maths and the hard sciences (physics, chemistry, biology, etc.).

    nk (dbc370)

  14. Nk, I wasn’t smart enough to get into Williams. But my lovely wife did. She is pretty reasonable. Other than her taste in men, I mean.

    Simon Jester (d6b967)

  15. Nehemiah scudder encouraged more openness, women like that person become policy makers like the ones who arranged the uva witchhunt.

    narciso (ee1f88)

  16. That First Amendment is so old school:

    [The] William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale recently commissioned a survey from McLaughlin & Associates about attitudes towards free speech on campus. Some 800 students at a variety of colleges across the country were surveyed. The results, though not surprising, are nevertheless alarming. By a margin of 51 percent to 36 percent, students favor their school having speech codes to regulate speech for students and faculty. Sixty-three percent favor requiring professors to employ “trigger warnings” to alert students to material that might be discomfiting. One-third of the students polled could not identify the First Amendment as the part of the Constitution that dealt with free speech. Thirty-five percent said that the First Amendment does not protect “hate speech,” while 30 percent of self-identified liberal students say the First Amendment is outdated.
    Via Hot Air.

    Dana (86e864)

  17. A bunch of pansies this generation is! The Dark
    side, taken control it has! Fear for this country,
    when invaded I am. Sigh!!!!! Back to Dagobah again I go!

    Yoda (feee21)

  18. On the upside, plenty of young people will graduate and choose to work for a living. Sure, the delicate flowers will continue to influence popular culture. However, they can only do so with the capital generated by labor. At some point, the revolution will not be workers versus owners.

    It will be workers versus the elite who provide nothing but bromides against the people who allow them to lecture their lessers.

    Ag80 (eb6ffa)

  19. Liberal arts includes the maths and the hard sciences (physics, chemistry, biology, etc.).

    Harvey Mudd, #1 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs* is #14 in the Liberal Arts list. It’s intereting to note that the five Claremont Colleges are 4, 9, 14, 29 and 35 on that list. I enjoyed my time at Mudd.

    *At schools where doctorate not offered

    Kevin M (25bbee)

  20. #15:

    I was just saying “If this goes on…”

    Kevin M (25bbee)

  21. Actually what happened here is the kids saw “certain people” gaining advantage by being perpetually offended. Then they thought “If it works for Tyrone it’ll work for me”. Then they became perpetually offended. Because it gets you stuff. I’ve been watching it happen for years.

    f1guyus (def640)

  22. O.K., I rarely weigh in on this sort of “lightness of being” (if you can call it that) wait, what ? Oh, yeah:

    f1guyus (def640) — 10/23/2015 @ 11:58 pm

    THAT. This is nothing less that an “imitation of life.”

    i’ll cut to the chase: So much sound and fury signifying nothing.

    felipe (56556d)

  23. There were reports of some flooding and landslides, but no fatalities or major damage as Record-breaking Hurricane Patricia pushed rapidly inland while bypassing the metropolis of Guadalajara overnight.

    Speaking of indoctrination. Record breaking my ass.

    papertiger (c2d6da)

  24. 23.And I do think indoctrination has consequences.

    So do I, Simon Jester. President Obama and same sex marriage being just two examples. I have no tolerance for people with hyphenated names like April Kelly-Woessner as that identifies them as having a parent who would not fully commit to the other. Back in the 70’s when hyphenated names started to become prominent I noted it was the feminists trying to break the traditional Judeo-Christian tradition of taking the father’s name. It also indicates to me the leftist tilt of the named, like Melissa Harris-Perry or Debra Wasserman-Shultz. Now, if Melissa Harris-Perry married Debra Wasserman-Shultz in a devotional showing of interracial, interdenominational homosexual commitment would their adopted Chinese love child be named Wong Harris-Perry-Wasserman-Shultz (assuming Debra to be “the male”)?

    Rev. Barack Hussein Hoagie™ (f4eb27)

  25. I am a conservative. I am very conservative. When I encounter an idiot in real life I normally leave their presence a soon as possible to avoid unpleasant nonsense.

    I have been to presentations where an idiot was obviously in-charge or presenting. I walk out as soon as I realize this. I don’t bring 100 friends and signs and megaphones to drown out their message. I leave. If other idiots want to listen to another idiot, who cares. It is their time to waste.

    But when they insist that their idiocy trumps my rights, then we have a situation.

    It’s cliche but my right to free speech trumps their supposed right to not be offended. I still can’t find that right in the Constitution.

    There are a lot of highly-opinionated, empty, vacuous minds out there.

    WarEagle82 (44dbd0)

  26. BTW Simon. If guys like me had been less tolerant of commies, socialists, leftists, moslems, anarchists, atheists, agnostics, revolutionaries, foreigners, illegals, homosexuals, criminals, anti-Semites, Christian haters, abortionists, eugenicists, reverse racists and anti Americans in our midst back when these a-holes began to inject themselves into law, entertainment, education and politics we would have a hell of a lot fewer problems today. I would venture to say we would not be watching the slow but steady slide of our Republic into the crap hole of history. All we need now is a few more years of tolerating moslems and illegals so the left can form an unbeatable political machine. Wait till they see how tolerant moslems are.

    Rev. Barack Hussein Hoagie™ (f4eb27)

  27. It’s Debbie Poodleman-Schultz, Rev. Hoagie. Get it right!

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)

  28. At least they didn’t call the cops like K O’Donnell’s restaurant in Phoenix did last night with a Breitbart group meet up.

    Mike K (90dfdc)

  29. Brothers… Sisters… We don’t need no Fascist Food Thing!

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)


    Ith not true, Melittha Harrith-Perry! We are not raythitst!!!

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)

  31. Williams HS is just copying Oberlin HS’s officially sanctioned faux fear of dissenting views. Back on April 20th 2015 Kaitlyn Schallhorn reporting for Campus Reform revealed the following: (excerpt)

    Oberlin College feminists claim they “feel unsafe” because of an upcoming event featuring Christina Hoff Sommers, a noted scholar and author on modern feminism.

    In a public Facebook event page, the Oberlin College Republicans and Libertarians (OCRL) student group said Sommers will discuss “feminism from a perspective that differs from the general Oberlin population.”

    However, many female students at the Ohio school have taken over the comments section of the event page to express their disappointment in the group’s choice of Sommers as an event speaker. Several students claim they “feel unsafe” by her presence on campus…

    ropelight (8a3c14)

  32. Several students claim they “feel unsafe” by her presence on campus…

    They should be immediately removed from the school as being too immature to handle the required work and interactions of adults. If I had my way they’d be doing two years service in Afghanistan too, helping victims of moslem rape to show them what “unsafe” really means.

    Rev. Barack Hussein Hoagie™ (f4eb27)

  33. And here’s that Golden Oldie, the Oberlin Choir’s serenade to the Christina Sommers hecklers:

    Which brings us to the crux of the matter. It was not the hecklers who disinvited Venker. They were just doing what hecklers do. It was the “Uncomfortable” people who first told her “We love you, Suzanne”, and then left her stranded at the prom because the heckling made them uncomfortable. The heckler’s veto works only if you let it.

    On the other hand, if you want to use the other hand, maybe backing down to the hecklers was the right thing to. Who is Suzanne Venker that there should be hard feelings among the students over her? Whoever troubles his own household shall inherit the wind, and the fool shall be servant to the wise, after all. These kids just want to graduate and step into the six-figure plus salaries their parents have waiting for them.

    nk (dbc370)

  34. R.I.P. Maureen O’Hara, THE Queen of Technicolor. If you have never seen “The Quiet Man” with her and John Wayne, do so now . . . That’s an order!

    Icy (58bc9c)

  35. No way, Icy! McClintock! That’s where she and the Duke shone.

    nk (dbc370)

  36. I liked it when he spanked her.

    Icy (58bc9c)

  37. Ft. Apache and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, better they were!

    Yoda (feee21)

  38. What an interesting post, coming off of days and days of widespread petulant demands of banning happyfeet for the way he articulates his views on abortion and the political weaponization of the issue for partisan ends. It’s almost like y’all are demanding some kind of “safe space” for yourselves, where you don’t have to see or hear opinions you don’t like. “More speech not less” though, got it. Maybe you could call the campus disinvitation the “Tanney O’Haley happyfeet commenting blocking tool” of modern angsty adolescents – but that would make for some uncomfortable parallels, I suppose. “He’s welcome to express himself,” we could say – “we just don’t want to provide him a platform.” Or is dissent only useful for the college kids we love to deride?

    There is repeated, pointed speculation on this site about why Patterico doesn’t ban happyfeet. It’s because Patterico *actually believes* that the key to progress is more speech, not less speech. Even if he doesnt like the particular opinions expresse.: that’s why he supports FIRE. That’s why I support FIRE.

    It cuts both ways, folks.

    Leviticus (5e9105)

  39. That’s different, maybe?

    Leviticus (5e9105)

  40. between a nonprofit institution, which is supposed to be in the business of exposing one to different ideas, yet practices lockstep conformity, and a site which still displays a remarkable degree of tolerance to those who have chosen to disrupt it’s work,

    narciso (ee1f88)

  41. To clarify, what business is Patterico’s particular nonprofit institution in, again? I would submit “the business of exposing one to different ideas” – since it’s an online forum, and all. I wouldn’t say it practices lockstep conformity, at this point.

    Leviticus (5e9105)

  42. That’s different, maybe?

    Yep, Leviticus, because liberals tend to pride themselves on their tolerance, understanding, openness and diversity, and, in turn, deem their ideological foes as being just the opposite of those traits. Or similar to how folks on the left also favor the notion they’re more generous and compassionate than their political counterparts (and, btw, surveys indicate just the opposite of that is true).

    People of the right, by contrast, generally don’t pray at the altar of diversity for diversity’s sake, or genuflect over tolerance for tolerance’s sake, much less embrace the divinity of compassion for compassion’s sake.

    I guess the flip side for rightists who talk out of both sides of their mouth is if they’re guilty of trashing hard, cold facts, renouncing common sense or being a sleazeball behind closed doors (eg, the conservative Christian preacher who is carrying on affairs with all the ladies in his congregation and the hot girl down the street).

    Mark (f713e4)

  43. Mark (f713e4) — 10/24/2015 @ 9:53 pm

    Conservatives don’t claim to believe in allowing different ideas to be expressed? If we really don’t believe in that then our only objection to libs not allowing it is “You’re not abiding by your own principles” which is really lame.

    Gerald A (c77e21)

  44. Not many people are asking to ban happyfeet; the ones who do consider him a heckler not so much expressing dissent but more as attempting to derail the discussion; and they’ve come to their view after reading a great many of his comments over a pretty long time. So your parallel does not work.

    So let’s talk about whether hecklers have the right to keep on heckling. I’ll give you a real life example:
    A bunch of Muslims hold a peaceful rally. A bunch of mouth-breathers show up with pigs’ heads and signs that say “Pedophile Prophets”. The Muslims are ready to turn the mouth-breathers into falafel but the cops surround the mouth-breathers and escort them away. First Amendment absolutists, namely Eugene Volokh, said that the cops should have surrounded the mouth-breathers to protect them but it was a violation of their First Amendment rights to escort them away. I say it was a violation of the Muslims’ rights to prevent them from kicking the mouth-breathers’ teeth down their throats, but what do I know? Ok, the mouth-breathers should have been protected from physical violence since they were only speeching. But did they have the right to go on inciting a riot with police protection?

    nk (dbc370)

  45. #37… you would, icy!

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)

  46. Spank it red, to match those flaming locks! Ginger Buns!

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)

  47. The right to free speech in a public forum does not mean the need to allow whatever in a private place, Leviticus.

    A person has a right to say crude, lewd, and vulgar things about you and your family in a public setting,
    but we are under no compulsion to entertain someone doing so here, if P decided to ban them.

    As nk said, sometimes hf seems bent on derailing conversation, “jamming” as it were, and that we fight to neutralize his corrosive effect;
    other times he is revoltingly crude and disgusting, and I would not allow him to say such things on my front porch, or my virtual front porch, if it were mine.

    Does that seem reasonable? If I was known to use such language as hf, I would give a demonstration for you,
    but I don’t and I won’t,
    even if only for clarity.

    MD in Philly (not in Philly at the moment) (deca84)

  48. Texas’s ‘Impossible’ $10K Degree Marches On

    Finally, the ground is beginning to shift. The impossible may be starting to look inevitable.

    happyfeet (831175)

  49. Conservatives don’t claim to believe in allowing different ideas to be expressed?

    But they don’t envelope that in a cloud of proclaimed love for diversity, free expression, non-conformity and do-your-own-thang forgiveness.

    The situation is similar to the way a larger cross-section of people of the right, instead of saying they’re kind-hearted, loving and generous, go out and donate their time, money and even blood (ie, to blood banks), while a larger percentage of liberals merely pretend to be doing such things.

    Mark (f713e4)

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