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