The lecture by pornographer Jiz Lee is to education what George Zimmerman is to neighborhood safety. Lee’s promotional video may show “Jiz” at her intellectual peak, chewing on a woman’s underwear. Lee’s claims about “vaginal fisting” and “copious female ejaculation” could use up five minutes of study time for a behavioral psychologist, but probably wouldn’t make a great departure point for a graduation speech.
Spring silliness is inevitable at any college. In a way, the Dively Committee has taken up where fraternities left off. To pretend that Lee’s appearance represents a call to LGBTQ rights, freedom of expression or intellectual stimulation is pure con. People who buy this should be held on campus in protective custody before their ignorance is exposed to a plundering world.
One problem with labeling the joke of Lee’s appearance an example of ‘spring follies’ is that it is offensive to a broad cross section of people inside and outside the College community. Williams is very sensitive to offensive behavior, so sensitive that when bad words are used on campus, the whole school is called to action by the students, the faculty and/or the administration. That’s not a bad principle on its surface, but is it a real principle or a selective application of personal taste by some in power? Those who are deeply offended that Lee appeared under the Williams marquee deserve the same respect as the individuals or groups that receive College protection.
There are other questions. Is it true that undue pressure was applied to stifle the free speech rights of a group of women seeking to have an open debate about the College’s sponsorship of Lee? It is true that the administration rejected my proposal that, without commentary, they send parents and alumni the Lee advertisement displayed on campus. As an event held in a Williams building, sanctioned by a Williams department, a Williams dean and a Williams graduate’s College-approved endowment, why doesn’t the College send out the information when requested?
With this endorsement and “proud” invitation, the College has allowed Lee a rare privilege – that of representing Williams College. The media stories covering Lee’s appearance all led with “Williams College.” Lee will use the Williams appearance as she has those at Stanford and Berkeley: to profitably sell her act to other venues. Who grants that license at the College? Are there any standards applied to granting representational authority of Williams?
It’s always worthwhile to check one’s own standards and taste by exposing friends and acquaintances to that which is personally offensive. Getting opinions from others is essential. For that reason, I sent the advertisement for Lee’s event and Lee’s personal website to a broad range of people. Black and white, gay and straight, rich and poor, elite educated and not, the reactions fell into very few slots. Most often, people said “disgusting,” “stupid,” or “this is what the parents pay $50,000 for?” I exposed over 50 people to the material. The universal reaction was one of disgust and wonder that this is the stuff Williams stands for. Whether the College does, indeed, stand for that which Lee advocates is to be determined. Still, the College has created the perception that it approves of Lee. That perception is today a reality.
It’s a paradox that Lee is a banality who shouldn’t be taken seriously, but that the sponsorship that wraps her in the Williams banner should be. It’s also contradictory that the right of free speech at Williams is rationed. Imagine the College reaction if Lee were the performer at a season-ending dinner of the rugby team.
The Lee fiasco has cost Williams. The school has suffered reputational damage and is being laughed at for hosting and advertising this “strap-on champion” and pretending that Lee is anything more than a porno performer.
The administration has an opportunity to explain the mess caused by this porn endorsement. The president can explain how it happened, apologize to those offended and move on. To do nothing is to try to bury a bad mistake. That never works.
There are many great people who would love an invitation to speak at the College. We can do better at Williams than pretend that a pornographer is a serious speaker. It’s time for our college to avoid the lowest common denominator and reach for the stars.
Herbert Allen ’62 lives in New York, N.Y.