Uncomfortable or damaging?: Debating the merits and detriments of harmful speech on campus

October 21, 2015 by The Williams Record Editorial Board

Uncomfortable Learning scheduled and later cancelled a talk by Suzanne Venker, founder of Women for Men, a news and opinion website that claims that the feminist movement results in female privilege and discrimination against men. While we at the Record believe Venker’s views are wrong, offensive and unacceptable, it is difficult to determine whether or not there would have been enough educational value in her lecture to justify an appearance, given that her presence on campus would have hurt students who face sexist and homophobic stereotypes.

Though Venker’s speech is legally protected, the College, as a private institution, has its own set of rules about what discourse is acceptable. In general, the College should not allow speech that challenges fundamental human rights and devalues people based on identity markers, like being a woman. Much of what Venker has said online, in her books and in interviews falls into this category. 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.

The purpose of Uncomfortable Learning, however, is to confront problems outside the purple bubble and introduce students to opinions that they would not otherwise hear on campus. These ideas might not be welcome in the intellectual, academic, liberal discourse that takes place in the classroom. It may be worthwhile to hear these opinions, including Venker’s, even if we find them harmful and fundamentally disagree with them.

A significant portion of people, both in the United States and in other countries, share Venker’s views. Her beliefs are harmful to women, gay men and society as a whole. Engaging with people who have damaging views and gradually educating them about privilege and discrimination is necessary to bring about societal change. Bringing Venker to campus would have offered interested students a chance to practice that skill. Williams students are not likely to encounter people with Venker’s beliefs on campus, and many may have come from backgrounds that did not expose them to her beliefs. It is difficult for an educated person who associates mostly with other liberal-minded people to understand how Venker justifies her beliefs or how she came to hold them. The potential value in her lecture was the opportunity for students to hear her explain herself and the chance for community members to ask her questions. In this format, students would be exposed to the reasons for her position rather than merely writing her off as irrational or unintelligent. Those reasons and justifications are the root of her wrongful opinions, so learning what they are is essential to removing those opinions from society.

It was not Uncomfortable Learning’s intention that students would consider Venker’s views to be correct or attempt to find some truth in them. The idea of her coming to campus was to provide students with the opportunity to understand and challenge the underpinnings of her beliefs. Uncomfortable Learning is a safe way to discuss otherwise unacceptable opinions on campus, as the audience members choose to attend and understand going in that the speaker may be offensive.

That being said, there are reasons to believe that the lecture would not have enough educational value to justify inviting Venker to campus. Her beliefs are not nuanced. Arguing with a speaker with whom one shares no common ground could amount to nothing more than each side validating its own views. Trying to persuade Venker might have been a hopeless endeavor and is not necessarily the most productive use of Uncomfortable Learning’s resources, especially in light of the strong reaction from students against her appearance.

The potential value and harm of inviting Venker to speak are difficult to quantify. Weighing the two against each other is an even more complicated calculus, and we at the Record could not come to a unified consensus on this calculation. It is important that Uncomfortable Learning pushes the envelope of campus discourse, but they must consider the potential damage of introducing harmful thoughts into the safe space that is so vital to the College’s ability to nurture and educate.

{ 116 comments… read them below or add one }

Melissa October 21, 2015 at 6:48 am

This is a weak justification for shutting out a speaker because she takes a contrarian position on Feminism.

You write, “Arguing with a speaker with whom one shares no common ground could amount to nothing more than each side validating its own views.” Without contrarian opinions, there is no opportunity for growth or challenges.

Does one argue with a novel taught in class? Hardly. You read the novel and then discuss what it had to say. By banning a book, you deprive yourself and others the opportunity to consider its words – which is really the goal of those who protested Venker’s speech. It’s no different from those who protested the teaching of Evolution, or books by Vonnegut, Twain, and Salinger in high school curricula (yes, this happens).

This editorial basically accepts that once people have developed a world view, they should not permit arguments and ideas counter to that view. What some Williams students could not accept is others in the community hearing a different opinion on Feminism than what they want them to think.

What’s lost in this pursuit of conceptual monoculture is the exercise of testing and improving ideas. At a University, that approach should be abhorrent to students and faculty alike.


Robert Hall October 31, 2015 at 10:19 am

I read your article once, then re-read it as it might have been written by a German university in 1933 after “errantly” inviting a Jewish speaker onto campus. There is virtually no difference. This article is the very definition of sophomoric.


Charles Kronick '91 November 12, 2015 at 11:29 pm

Sophomoric editorial indeed.

The College representatives violated two principles, one academic, the other ethical. Refusing to air an opinion on grounds it could engender uncomfortable feelings gives undue weight to unexamined feelings and is anathema to rational and critical thought. Secondly, disinviting a guest is indecent and is never done by the mature. Do you students really see yourselves as future leaders?


Dr. Necessitor October 21, 2015 at 10:08 am

“This editorial basically accepts that once people have developed a world view, they should not permit arguments and ideas counter to that view. What some Williams students could not accept is others in the community hearing a different opinion on Feminism than what they want them to think.”

Could not have said it better. And the book banning analogy is spot-on. Well done Melissa!


Alexander October 21, 2015 at 10:53 am

We do not debate or argue with a novel, but you don’t have to ban a book to recognize that not all views are worth listening to. Nobody assigns Danielle Steel novels in a college course on narrative perspective; that doesn’t mean “Season of Passion” is banned from college campuses. A more concrete example: it’s not worth inviting Ken Ham to a discussion on religious perspectives on Big Bang cosmology, since he’s already made it clear in his work that he is a Young Earth creationist who is unwilling to think critically about science. The fact that many Americans share his views is irrelevant to the question of whether his inclusion would further critical thinking about the issue.

It is important to keep this in mind, and remember that not all discussants are playing the same game. Some are genuine critical thinkers, interested in having well-supported positions and willing to change their positions when better reasons come along. Others are ax-grinding apologists, content to rely on poor reasoning and often proud to claim that nothing could change their opinion. Uncomfortable Learning has the right and the responsibility to assess the value of speakers to furthering critical discussion, and to exclude views that they deem reasonably to have no rational basis.

That being said, the problem in this case seems to be in the dis-invitation of Ms. Venker. If Uncomfortable Learning had deemed her views to have insufficient educational value, then she should never have been invited. The dis-invitation makes the distinct impression that the group has caved to opposition, and reflects poorly on both Uncomfortable Learning and the College.


John McAdams October 22, 2015 at 12:00 am

>>> We do not debate or argue with a novel, but you don’t have to ban a book to recognize that not all views are worth listening to. <<<

And who appointed you (or any other Williams leftists) as the arbiter of what ideas are worth listening to?

What you are expressing is nasty authoritarianism, pure and simple.


Michael La Porte October 22, 2015 at 2:46 pm


You should know better. It is a Truth that not all views are equal and equally worth listening to. And, its not “nasty authoritarianism,” let alone “pure and simple” nasty authoritarianism.

The Geology Department at Williams (and, I’d hazard a guess at Marquette too) doesn’t teach the “biblical age” of the earth. The History Department doesn’t deny the genocide of Jews during World War II. The Biology Department doesn’t teach creationism. This isn’t “nasty authoritarianism” its the way academics and the pursuit of truth and knowledge work.

Even in the philosophy department and in Political Science (your field of expertise) not all views are treated equally and some are so marginal so as to be, well, marginalized to the point of not to be discussed at all. Likewise, some speakers are so inept or poorly reasoned that — even if the conclusions reached are valid or arguably valid — that they do not merit consideration for inclusion in the discussion.

As far as I can tell, neither Alexander (nor any other “Williams Leftists”) rescinded Ms. Venker’s invitation. The students (2 of 3 of them — the dissenting vote on rescission coming from someone who doesn’t agree with Venker) rescinded the invitation.

You should come visit Williams some time. I think you’d find it a much different place than the image you have of it.

Michael La Porte
Chicago, IL
Class of 1991 (B.A. Economics, Women’s Studies Concentration)


Mike October 23, 2015 at 1:10 am

I think I would rather visit University of Phoenix. They apparently provide an education with more intellectual rigor and less hypocrisy than Williams College.


Louis October 23, 2015 at 1:38 am


Interesting opinion that not all views are equal. It reminds me of a quote.

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

But what do I know? You have a women’s studies concentration and therefore should be able to identify when a woman’s views are worth listening to and when that women should be quiet.


John McAdams November 2, 2015 at 3:17 pm

>>> The Geology Department at Williams (and, I’d hazard a guess at Marquette too) doesn’t teach the “biblical age” of the earth. The History Department doesn’t deny the genocide of Jews during World War II. The Biology Department doesn’t teach creationism. <<<

In the first place, you are *assuming* that criticism of feminism is in the same class as (say) holocaust denial. In fact, criticism of and rejection of feminist views is far more mainstream that holocaust denial.

But worse, while academic departments can teach what their discipline dictates, it's a whole different matter to ban from campus views outside the academic mainstream. There is nothing wrong with letting a holocaust denier speak. Are you afraid that somehow such a person might persuade somebody of his view? And if so, do you feel obligated to "protect" that person from bad ideas?

How would you feel about *others* who took it upon themselves to protect *you* from bad ideas?

Or do you think you are among the elite that has the right to decide which ideas need to be banned?

P.S. Do you think what academics in this or that believe is the gold standard as to what should be allowed? Are you aware that academic disciplines sometimes go off the rails and embrace ideas that, in retrospect, turn out to be foolish?


Robert October 22, 2015 at 1:13 am

I agree with the last paragraph. There is always some value judgment in the selection of a speaker. That unavoidable. If UL never inviter Venker in the first place because they saw little merit in her views, then it would have been a non-issue. But once the UL committee made their choice, this indicates that they *did* see some value, whatever it was, and clearly people outside of that committee put pressure on them to not follow through with it. That is a very unhealthy climate for a College, where people have to back down from presenting ideas because of bullying.


Maxwell Dolor October 22, 2015 at 10:46 am

Whether or not one can somehow magically determine that a view is unworthy of hearing without actually having heard the view expressed is at best a secondary issue. Similarly, even if one has heard a speakers views and found them tedious, odious or otherwise unworthy of further attention – that does not entitle one to prevent others, who very well come to different conclusions, from having the opportunity to hear a speaker.

The role of an educational institution in providing a venue for speakers with differing views on broad philosophical matters and on the issues of the day is to ensure that students and the general public have as a broad an exposure to the wide variety of existing viewpoints on such matters as may be available.

It is *particularly* important to provide safe venues for expression of views typically not heard on the campus of a given institution, as otherwise the institution du jour may just become a sad parody of education – an echo chamber of views adhering only to the social or intellectual orthodoxy of the institution, with the only permissible debate being arguments over the various shadings of gray within that orthodoxy.

Such an institution is an institution of indoctrination, not education – and a fraud upon the student and general community.


Michael La Porte October 22, 2015 at 2:47 pm

“that does not entitle one to prevent others”

The dissenting / protesting voices did not “prevent” Venker from coming to campus. That decision was made by 2/3 of the UL student organizers.


cheeflo October 22, 2015 at 6:11 pm

2/3 of the UL student organizers?

So how many student organizers were there? Three? Five? 2/3 of a small cadre is itself a very small number. If the invitation was cancelled, then yes, people were prevented from hearing the speaker’s point of view.

Sounds to me like it boils down to a couple of gutless people, freaked out by uncivil social media responses. And I wonder how many of those there were.

How do these students even get through the day without collapsing into a puddle of anguish and fear?


Current Williams Student October 23, 2015 at 12:16 am

There were three students on the committee. Two resigned, leaving the third to deal with the mess and cancel the event.

Robert October 23, 2015 at 10:03 am

You seem to completely discount the notion that the nature and magnitude of the anti-Venker pushback itself takes any blame for this, or is in any way unhealthy. I don’t think that you know that. I admit that i don’t. But people typically don’t cancel an event because a group disagreed with the choice of speaker. I’ve seen how some students get these days, maybe not physical threats but you do start to wonder how far it can go with the language that is used – sick, vile, disgusting human being supporting oppression with blood on your hands blah blah isn’t so bad, but the climate makes you feel that these thoughts will be held against you for a long time, in ways you might not imagine, and it is best to just keep them to yourself.


DavidB October 24, 2015 at 1:16 pm

So, you won’t even acknowledge the UL felt threatend by the response to Venker coming to speak on Campus?

Blame the victem.


Leeada Johnson October 29, 2015 at 4:04 am

You actually were admitted to study at an institution of higher learning?
It seems both you and the Institution are sadly lacking, but hopefully your excuse is that English is not your mother tongue.

conceptualinertia October 23, 2015 at 12:25 pm

I agree with your basic point. However, you wrote that it would not be worthwhile to bring in Ken Ham to a discussion of religious perspectives of Big Bang cosmology because Mr. Ham is “unwilling” to think critically about science. While it is true that Mr. Ham appears to be unwilling to think critically about the Bible, he is far more willing to think critically about science than most scientists (or, presumably, the average student on campus).


Planet T October 29, 2015 at 12:03 am

You cannot seriously be equating questioning the validity of intersectional theory or the existence of a vast patriarchal conspiracy with flat earthism or radical creationism. That is absolutely absurd!


Xavier October 21, 2015 at 12:44 pm

The echo chamber of liberal institutions of higher learning: Your opinion differs from mine therefore I’m right and you’re wrong. And don’t hurt my feelings by telling me your opinion, which by the way, is wrong. Coddled and cocooned college students then sent out into the world to share the propaganda they learned. And so brainwashed that they can’t even see that they are brainwashed.


Mitch October 21, 2015 at 1:05 pm

Unacceptable… Not enough educational value…Would have hurt students…These ideas might not be welcome in the intellectual, academic, liberal discourse of the classroom…Her beliefs are harmful… They must consider the potential damage of introducing harmful thoughts into the safe space…Williams students are not likely to encounter people with Venker’s beliefs on campus, and many may have come from backgrounds that did not expose them to her beliefs…It is difficult for an educated person who associates mostly with other liberal-minded people to understand how Venker justifies her beliefs or how she came to hold them.

Williams is not a college. How can it be called that when it is afraid of exposing students to other viewpoints and ideas, no matter how “harmful” or “damaging.” There is no diversity of thought or opinion. There is no desire to be challenged or changed. There is no need to understand how other people come their world views. Just the need to censor.

In the rare instance students get challenged you label the message and the messenger to discredit and silence them. You say their ideas are beneath you and the campus collective. You hypocrites. You do the same thing you claim others do. You demean people. They are lessor than you. They are beneath you. Are they human? Are they capable of higher thought? Do they deserve a space among us elites? Well you have provided yourself with satisfactory answers to these questions. To the best of your limited abilities.

Williams has become a seminary churning out church ladies to make judgment upon others. To work hard to rid the world of opinions, ideas and actions they see as sinful. To shame those sinners while basking in the warmth of superiority and high-mindedness. Life is easy when you are convinced your own purity and the filthiness of others.

The history and literature departments of Williams should be embarrassed. They have allowed these church ladies to become nothing more than Borg. Drones destined to repeat the mistakes of the past and burn as many books as they can along their safe, destructive path.


Michael October 22, 2015 at 8:13 am

“The history and literature departments of Williams should be embarrassed. They have allowed these church ladies to become nothing more than Borg. Drones destined to repeat the mistakes of the past and burn as many books as they can along their safe, destructive path.”

The decision to dis-invite Venker wasn’t “the history and literature departments at Williams.” It was two of the three members of a student group, Uncomfortable Learning. For the factually uninformed this might reflect poorly on them. But for two departments that apparently had nothing to do with the invitation or rescinding of it, shouldn’t be anything.

IMO, this op-ed has WAAAAAAAAY too much “safe space” rehetoric, but the other main take away – that Venker’s views are too poorly thought out, reasoned, grounded in fact, history, etc., is nonetheless valid.

You don’t see Williams inviting flat earthers for lectures, white supremecists for lectures, climate deniers, creationists, etc.


Robert October 22, 2015 at 11:54 am

The biggest misunderstanding in all of this discussion regards your last paragraph. Who “Williams” invites is not the issue. Of course judgments of quality and credibility are made all of the time in sleeking speakers. But an institution is likely to have a broad diversity of opinions among its members. *If* an individual or student group chose to invite any of the groups above, for whatever reason, no one should try to block their attendance to protect the feelings of others. That is a horrible path to go down that can be abused in so many different ways. And it is entirely unnecessary. These views will persist whether the speaker visits or not. It is better to shine a light on them then to try to shut them out. People have to learn to live with all sorts of crazy attitudes and ideas around them. It is an unavoidable part of life.


Michael La Porte October 22, 2015 at 12:23 pm

Robert – I THINK (correct me if I’m wrong) that you misread my last paragraph as commenting on content or viewpoint of the speakers. Its not. Its commenting on the substance (as contrasted to the viewpoint). Flat earther’s aren’t legitimate scholars – not because of their viewpoints but because of their methodologies. Same re: white supremacists, climate deniers, and creationists. Its not the viewpoint that adherents hold, but how they come to that viewpoint. As I note above re: Billy Nye – things that would change his mind about creationism? Evidence. But creationists don’t rely on evidence.

Anti-feminism (a horrible description, that paints with such a broad brush, so I’m willing to adopt other language) doesn’t NECESSARILY fall into those same categories, but Suzanne Venker seems to to fit the bill personally. She does not appear to be doing scholarship but instead engaging in pop culture rhetoric. I could assert that “women should stay at home and rear children” (as Venker’s aunt, Phyllis Schlaffley ironically did), but it wouldn’t be a very interesting point of view if it weren’t based on something other than a knee-jerk reaction.

IMO, UL made a mistake in inviting Venker not because of the message but because of the messenger. There are scholars doing work in this area (http://www.pbs.org/thinktank/transcript132.html). I also disagree with much (but not all) of the “safe space” rhetoric that is littered throughout this editorial.

Some degree of editorial discretion has to go into selecting who should be invited to speak in the first instance. This isn’t censorship. Its the reality that there is a finite amount of time one spends outside of class at Williams. And finally, simply because reality forces me to encounter “all sorts of crazy attitudes” in life doesn’t mean that we should INVITE those attitudes voluntarily. Even if the unexamined life is not worth living doesn’t mean that we have to constantly examine every aspsect of our lives.


Robert October 22, 2015 at 12:38 pm

We keep having the same misunderstanding. Maybe it’s me. I’ll say it one more time just in case.

“doesn’t mean we should invite …”

I agree, of course you should not invite people that you find uninteresting and lacking substance. The issue is *if somebody else invites her*, do you see a problem with others trying to stand in the way of that invitation? Inevitably not everyone on a campus gets to vote on every speaker. A student, student group, professor, whoever can reserve a conference room and invite a speaker. You might think it is the worst choice ever. How do you respond? Protesting, ignoring it, etc. all seem reasonable. But bullying the organizer into rescinding the invitation is a horrible precedent if you ask me.

Michael La Porte October 22, 2015 at 1:36 pm

Robert – I agree with everything you said. I’m not sure where the information about “bullying” organizers came from.

Robert October 22, 2015 at 1:46 pm

Regarding bullying, I was referring to the other article on this event in this same publication. Quotes like this: “I think it’s the campus’ loss that we can’t challenge [Venker] on these thoughts,” Hennessy said, “but given the reaction to it, based on how personal the attacks were, and our position as [Junior Advisors], we felt it best not to continue with [the lecture].”

You could argue that this is not bullying and the organizers should be more resilient. I can’t disagree with that. But externally, the appearance of vehement pushback causing a talk to be cancelled, and some celebration of this by the people pushing back (from comments on chat forums) just looks totally wrong.

Michael La Porte October 22, 2015 at 2:04 pm

“But externally, the appearance of vehement pushback causing a talk to be cancelled, and some celebration of this by the people pushing back (from comments on chat forums) just looks totally wrong.”

Sauce for the goose might just be sauce for the gander on this one. Choosing Venker was (intentionally or not) a bit of trolling aimed at feminists on campus. It seems a bit weak tea to complain that the feminists pushed back.

IMO, this is a bunch of spin on Fox News / Instapundit, etc. The “story” is that “liberal” Williams College has “disinvited” a conservative speaker.

The reality is that an invitation was extended by a student group. Students protested (loudly?) And the organizers caved. How this becomes the fault of campus liberals is beyond me.

Now, if there were people actually threatening violence, that’s an entirely different matter. But something akin to screaming “war criminal” at Sec’y Kissinger were he invited and speaking, IMO, wouldn’t qualify as bullying or as threatened violence. Disruptive, yes. But maybe that’s a bit of “uncomfortable learning.”

Robert October 22, 2015 at 2:13 pm

I can accept that analysis for the most part. The organizers should not have caved, much like a similar case recently (Wesleyan?) where an editorial was retracted because it offended some people. I guess I would need more detail — what the organizers confronted, and whether this is the outcome that those opposed wanted (and do they see this as a success). When the issue of blame is set aside, though, I still think the outcome is incredibly weak, and the reasoning behind it (explained above in the first two paragraphs especially) sounds almost like satire to me.

Jeff October 22, 2015 at 12:37 pm

“that Venker’s views are too poorly thought out, reasoned, grounded in fact, history, etc., is nonetheless valid.” Why? How so? The editorial doesnt say. You dont say. You both just deem it so. And that’s the problem. If those views are indeed poorly thought out, reasoned and grounded in fact, then the students attending should be able to arrive at the same conclusion. Why such a low opinion of the student body?


John McAdams October 22, 2015 at 2:36 pm

>>> You don’t see Williams inviting flat earthers for lectures, white supremecists for lectures, climate deniers, creationists, etc. <<<

In the first place, I don't see anything wrong with inviting any of those sorts of people. Students can come or not, and if they come are you afraid they will be seduced by ideas you consider bad?

But comparing people whose views you don't like with flat earthers is a cheap tactic. Suppose I compare Bernie Sanders to a flat earther? (In terms of economics he pretty much is.) Do you think you get to veto any speaker you dislike by comparing the speaker to a flat earther?

Here is something you don't realize: not everybody in the real world is a feminist. Less that 30% of all women consider themselves feminists. So being critical of feminists is a mainstream position, whether you like it or not.


Michael La Porte October 22, 2015 at 2:51 pm

Ironic, isn’t it, professor? The feminists encounter “uncomfortable learning” all the time in the “real world” because they are in the minority. Odd to introduce the “mainstream position” as uncomfortable as though Williams students ceased to encounter life and views outside of the Purple Valley when they entered as First Year students.


John McAdams October 22, 2015 at 7:58 pm

My point was that a criticism of feminism is not like saying the earth if flat. Most people in the real world aren’t attracted to feminism.

Your position seemed to be that “out of the mainstream” views should be silenced. But somehow “out of the mainstream” seems to be merely views with which you disagree.

I think that *both* mainstream and out of the mainstream views should be voiced on a college campus.

You believe in censoring views with which you disagree.

Mitch October 22, 2015 at 2:46 pm

Michael, I was referring to the History and Literature departments because those two departments would bear responsibility for teaching and warning us all of the dangers of censorship. You are correct that they are not responsible for UL or their speakers. My point was that they could (should?) be screaming at the top of their lungs from the tallest buildings about what is going on. Their embarrassment coming from the allowance of this to occur at a place they call home. The arguments made in this editorial are not new. They have been around for centuries. The subjects may have changed but the motives haven’t. Companies have silenced people. Governments have silenced people. Religions have silenced people. What we have here is a college silencing people. That is the biggest disgrace of all. The one place where all ideas should be examined and people should be made to be uncomfortable. There shouldn’t be a “safe space” here when it comes to the exchange of ideas and speech except to protect the speaker. The idea that people need trigger warnings and protection from opinions is demeaning to the listeners/students.

Interesting you brought up one of the greatest examples of this…flat earthers. The idea that the Earth was round and rotated around the sun was met with the same arguments back then as those presented by today’s high minded silencers. They were not just the religious but also academics and scientists. Thankfully they did not succeed. Unfortunately that is not the case many times today.


Michael La Porte October 22, 2015 at 2:57 pm

Mitch – the flat earth example doesn’t not help Venker apologists. Flat earth views were debunked by facts and well reasoned arguments. Much of the anti-Venker rancor stems from the fact that she’s outside of that paradigm and instead just spews dogmatic counter-punches to a minority group dressed up in the guise of its own victimized minority.

I think your shock that the departments aren’t agitated about this stems from the fact that this is NOT censorship. No one was censored. Once voice spoke. The other challenged it. The first backed down.

No one is being “silenced.” For crying out loud, Venker is now using the platform of Fox news not only to promote her views and her books, but also her status as an anit-feminist victim.

FWIW, I agree to a large degree regarding “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings.” Not completely, but mostly. These trends, IMO, have gotten out of hand. To the extent that such rhetoric was behind some protesters, I don’t endorse that view.


Mitch October 22, 2015 at 3:40 pm

Please understand that I am not defending Ms. Venker. I don’t believe a lot of others are as well. It’s just the thoughts of censorship and silence. I respectfully disagree that this is not censorship. For whatever reason she was dis-invited. Whatever she was going to say will not be said (by her at least). You are correct that she is not being silenced since she is presenting her case to friendly ears. However, we are talking about a different venue and being dis-invited shows clearly that she is not welcome. It is also a statement to others to stay away.

This reminds me of when Bernie Sanders recently went to Liberty University (shock!) I was not there of course but most media reports state that the good Senator gave a rousing speech and the students were respectful and appreciative. There was a Q&A session afterwards where views were presented. Each side realized they may disagree on some things but also may share some views as well. The same could have happened at the UL presentation . Williams’ students may have even discovered that they have an ally in Ms. Venker on some issues. Sadly, we will not find out.

Michael La Porte October 22, 2015 at 3:49 pm

Her remarks:


I read them all. IMO, Williams didn’t miss anything. If a viewpoint contra feminism should be expressed, Venker is a poor messenger for such a view.

I’m not clear why you are willing to conclude that the “whatever reason she was dis-invited” is the fault of the protesters, or even if it was in some sense “caused” by the protesters, that this is, in and of itself a bad thing.

Cliff T. Montgomery October 23, 2015 at 10:39 am

Do you really believe that any critique of contemporary feminism – that its influence may be excessive, counterproductive, pernicious or indeed oppressive to men and women – is indistinguishable from “flat earthism?” It seems that even you believe that “this op-ed has WAAAAAAAAY too much ‘safe space’ rehetoric [sic],” where safe space rhetoric has its origins in feminism and women’s studies departments. By your own criteria, perhaps you should be disinvited to participate in academic life at Williams College?


DavidB October 24, 2015 at 1:49 pm

WHOAWHOAWHOAWHOOOOA. You are lumping Venker in with ” flat earthers for lectures, white supremecists for lectures, climate deniers, creationists, etc.” for no other reason than you holds to what is consider a more “traditional” view of
Male/Female relationship? Seriously?

You do realize that the overwhelming number of American’s still adhere to what Venker speaks on, right?

btw, Climate deniers can go both ways.


Leeada Johnson October 29, 2015 at 4:07 am

Simply, you are an idiot.
Explaining will not help, it’s obviously much too late for you, to ever have an original thought.


Rob October 21, 2015 at 1:33 pm

“the harm of inviting Venker to speak [is] difficult to quantify”

Please don’t read your readers’ intelligence and actually try, instead of concluding yet another vapid editorial with yet more empty cliches. A lot of students here who feel cheated by both the organizers’ cancellation and the naked hostility to different kinds of ideas are genuinely intrigued by this elusive yet unstated “harm” it would cause.


Blaine Alvarez-Backus October 21, 2015 at 2:01 pm

I caution the Williams students against patting themselves on their collective back concerning their forcing the invitation to Ms. Venker to be revoked (the lack of a title in the op ed when mentioning Ms. Venker is telling).

So, we’re supposed to accept at face value that 18, 19 and 20 year olds are the arbiters
of what is right and wrong? Given the editorial board’s stance against hateful speech and wrong opinions, I’m fully confident that they would also object to a speaker at Williams
that advocates abortion, since abortion is demonstrably wrong and any speaker that advocates for abortion would be hurting Williams students that are for respecting life and social justice. Right? Well, I guess there might be some value in hearing a speaker like that so we can stamp out those type of thoughts in society.

The reality is, Williams is populated with students that are just kids. College students are supposed to be exposed to a variety of thought. If some opinions expressed on campus are too “hurtful” for you, you don’t need to attend the lecture. Get off your self-righteous horses, you don’t know half as much as you think you do.

“A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life” — Muhammad Ali

Me thinks the majority of the Williams student body has a lot of learning to do the next thirty years. If they’re up to the task.


Helene Cixous October 21, 2015 at 2:17 pm

“”The purpose of Uncomfortable Learning, however, is to confront problems outside the purple bubble “”

To your credit = at least you admit you are living in a bubble

It is odd that a college should consider its mandate to protect its students from ever feeling “uncomfortable” rather than to help mature these students and enable them to be capable of dealing with any kind of dissenting view.


JAL October 21, 2015 at 8:41 pm

Dear Williams Record Editorial Board, students, and faculty:

“…they must consider the potential damage of introducing harmful thoughts into the safe space that is so vital to the College’s ability to nurture and educate.”

Sheesh. Are these college students? College and graduate school — when I was there — was robust, diverse and full of challenges which could be engaged — or not. I can’t imagine going to college so it could provide a “safe” space. That would be a dorm room or apartment. In the day what this piece describes would be called neuroses and / or psychoses. Someone(s) needs professional help.

First thought to cross my mind? Grow. Up.

A Female


Geographer October 22, 2015 at 12:08 am

How bizarre to see an institution willingly take upon itself the role of helicopter parent to near-adults, protecting them from words.


Michael La Porte October 22, 2015 at 10:35 am

The “institution” didn’t cancel, two of the three members of the UL student organization cancelled.

Zach Wood, one of the three members (who apparently voted AGAINST disinviting despite disagreeing with Ms. Venker’s views) noted this on his FB page: https://www.facebook.com/zach.wood


Ben October 22, 2015 at 3:16 pm

The Institution taught these kids that their behavior is acceptable rather than atrocious. And the institution didn’t bother to tell them they are now nigh unhireable as they’ve demonstrated that they are both spineless and untrustworthy.


Matt October 23, 2015 at 11:56 am


It’s a very weak dodge to argue that school didn’t dis-invite her. There’s an established pattern at schools, including Williams now, where unpopular speech is protested and barred from campus.

Even if the decision maker is different, the mechanism is the same.

The students and others who posted rancorous objections the Venker did so with the hope and intention that her visit would be cancelled. This editorial repeats the “safe space” arguments that are often used to limit speech on campus and in the classroom.

It’s also obvious to anyone who’s been out of school for a while that no such safe spaces exist in the real world. Students would be better off learning to deal with it while at college and before they get into environments where they can’t go running to mommy and daddy because someone hurt their feelings.


DavidB October 24, 2015 at 1:52 pm

Is this ALL you have to say on the matter?


Geographer October 25, 2015 at 6:46 pm

Many consider editorials from newspapers an institutional position, thus my comment about an institution keeping people safe from words.


Leeada Johnson October 29, 2015 at 4:11 am

Hopefully this is not your real name.
Because the youthful censors here, who have given their names, will live with the results of their blind and fanatic foolishness throughout what will remain of their diminished careers.


Robert October 22, 2015 at 12:35 am

What a mess. This is a perfect illustration of why it is better not to do what you are doing (pre-screen speakers to see if they pass the censorship barrier). People will never agree, and there is no perfect argument that identifies where student feelings of discomfort (!?) are outweighed by a desire to have an open exchange of ideas. Worse, history has shown that people will use similar arguments to suppress (valid) contrary thoughts, creating a stagnant intellectual atmosphere. The simple solution is: just let the person speak. It is just a talk. It is not a big deal. The ideas are going to exist whether or not you ban the speaker. And the person can still speak a mile away at the public library anyhow, so it’s not like you silenced them. No one has to attend, and knowing the speaker is there is not going to send anyone into emotional convulsions. And frankly, you speak as though you know 100% that the talk will just be an exercise in understanding the enemy. Do you really know that? You are certain that no one sees any value in the arguments at Williams? I find that very hard to believe.


Jonathan Ben-Asher October 22, 2015 at 1:12 am

This editorial is poorly thought out and poorly written It’s a frightening example of how far too many college students are incapable of dealing with, much less listening to, views they don’t like.

“Arguing with a speaker with whom one shares no common ground could amount to nothing more than each side validating its own views. Trying to persuade Venker might have been a hopeless endeavor and is not necessarily the most productive use of Uncomfortable Learning’s resource….” So, because you disagree with a speaker, there’s no reason to hear that person? And, unless you can persuade the speaker they’re wrong, there’s no reason to have them speak?

Uncomfortable Learning “must consider the potential damage of introducing harmful thoughts into the safe space that is so vital to the College’s ability to nurture and educate.” What, I ask, are “harmful thoughts,” other than thoughts judged by particular individuals using an entirely subjective standard. I’m a long time progressive and Bernie Sanders supporter, who went to college when we battled for free speech. Sanders’ ideas are seen as harmful by our country’s right wing and many of the billionaire class, who wish to avoid taxes and would happily eliminate much of the federal government. Are students who don’t like Sanders entitled to bar him from campus? Under this theory, yes they are.

Finally, I can assure you that campuses are not intended to be a “safe space” where students don’t have to grapple with opinions they don’t like. Grappling with opinions you don’t like is the whole point. I went to Columbia, and we read Marx, Freud and Nietzsche in our freshman Great Books courses. If anyone had wanted to take a pass on the reading because it made them feel “unsafe,” they would have been laughed out of class and would have flunked the course. The world outside college is difficult, and filled with people whose opinions make you uncomfortable. I am sure that many of the students who are most strident in their pro-censorship views will go off to business school, and then join large law firm, hedge funds and other institutions that actually do real harm to real people. College is when you should prepare for engaging with ideas you don’t like, not run from them.


Jeff October 23, 2015 at 8:12 pm

Jonathan, I’m on the other end of the political spectrum, but I wholeheartedly endorse your view that “[g]rappling with opinions you don’t like is the whole point.” Intellectual discussion should be a full-contact sport, a no-hold-barred assault upon each student’s “comfort zone.”


James Bishop October 22, 2015 at 5:48 am

Williams has given us a classic example of what has become wrong with American higher education in general, timid faculty worried more about tenure than educational values, and the immature generation of contemporary students currently wallowing in it as well. Competitive athletics has taken over most campuses, reputations of institutions being based more on their win-loss record than their academic accomplishments. Graduates are all too often unable to contemplate the universe from a variety of perspectives having been cocooned in the banal environment they create for themselves with actions such as Williams students have just taken. They fear a point of view with which they do not agree. We consider China and North Korea to be examples of thought control. In those countries, the government is constipating thought. At Willams, the students are at fault.


Linda October 22, 2015 at 8:45 am

If these fragile students cannot bear to hear opposing views, how are they going to survive in the real world?


Alexander ('09) October 22, 2015 at 9:24 am

In the spirit of challenging student preconceptions, I suppose Uncomfortable Learning ought to invite some Holocaust deniers as well.

Let’s get real here. Education isn’t about simply exposing students to dissenting views. You can do that on Wikipedia. Education isn’t furthered by discussing Creationism in Cosmology class, or Holocaust denial in World History. Education is about critical thinking, a quality that not all “scholarship” possess, which is a fact that seems to escape some of the commentators here.

I have read some of what Ms. Venker has to say, and my impression has been that her views are not so much offensive as totally uncritical. For example, Ms. Venker attacks people who disagree with her but never bothers to defend the traditional values and “moral order” she claims we must re-embrace, likely because she knows quite well that their correctness is a foregone conclusion for her audience (which like her, is mostly conservative and white). My impression is that she makes no attempt to understand why people disagree with her, which is a classic mark of bad reasoning and bad faith argumentation. I am not saying that all critiques of contemporary Feminism necessarily engage in poor reasoning — there are better pieces challenging Feminism out there, but Ms. Venker’s work is not that.

It is considered axiomatic at institutions like Williams that propositions are only as strong as the arguments they present in their defense. Consequently, those who criticize but display little or no ability for self-criticism have not met their burden of critical thinking and are probably not worth including in a discussion, except as sociological or historical information. That judgment is subjective, but it is informed by critical thinking and good reasons, which are available to everyone. Let me reiterate, however, that the dis-invitation of Ms. Venker is wrong, and sends the distinct message that students have torpedoed Ms. Venker’s speech. The organizers of Uncomfortable Learning have served the college poorly in this instance.

By the way, it is unfortunate that the coverage of Ms. Venker on Fox News has brought out a number of comments by individuals who seem to know virtually nothing about the college. It might surprise some of them that a great many Williams students are a bit more conservative in their views than they might think — or so this alumnus (Class of 2009) has experienced.


Michael La Porte October 22, 2015 at 10:43 am

Well said. Richard Dawkins does not “debate” creationists because doing so elevates their position to the level of science and critical thinking, which it is not.

Bill Nye, who did engage in such a debate summed up the problem well in a “debate” he did engage in when asked “What, if anything, would ever change your mind? The creationist replied “no.”

Bill Nye replied “We would need just one piece of evidence.”

Not all viewpoints or arguments (or their proponents) are equal.

Michael La Porte ’91
B.A. Econ. (Women’s Studies Concentration).


James Bishop October 22, 2015 at 11:08 am

@ Michael La Porte – ‘Well said. Richard Dawkins does not “debate” creationists because doing so elevates their position to the level of science and critical thinking, which it is not.’ Nonsense. Prof. Dawkins doesn’t debate just any Creationist, but does debate prominent examples because it is necessary to confront ignorance in order to correct it. By the way, check carefully and you will find Williams not only tolerates Creationism, as you say Prof. Dawkins does not, it has several Creationists employed as teachers on campus.


Michael La Porte October 22, 2015 at 11:38 am

James – true that Professor Dawkins’ public statements are not entirely consistent with his actual actions. But I think you’ve missed my larger point – which is that not all viewpoints are equal.

Evolution is science. It does not play in the same field as creationism. Pretending that the two are “opposing views” is disingenuous. Whether Williams employs creationists is beside the point. It likely also employs anti-feminists. Also beside the point.

It think it gives far too much credit to Dawkins to suggest that his “debates” with ID believers “corrects” their ignorance. As the clip of the Nye “debate” shows, its not a debate. Its two opposing lectures.

But I digress. The point is, as Alexander aptly explains, that Venker is not engaged in the type of “scholarship” worthy of Williams. I readily acknowledge that this was not the reason that Venker was dis-invited, which reason must be found in the two decision makers, student members of the UL group. But it is a sufficient, and I’d argue better, reason for not having her troll the campus feminists and liberals.

MRL ’91


James Bishop October 22, 2015 at 10:48 am

@Alexander (’09) – ‘In the spirit of challenging student preconceptions, I suppose Uncomfortable Learning ought to invite some Holocaust deniers as well.’

In fact, yes. And, why not? What better way to have students discover the scope of humanities ability to ignore and distort facts? What is your point with this remark? Should a Holocaust Denier be barred from speaking? Why? What other dramatic mistakes should be barred from representation? Creationism? Young Earthers? Flat Earthers? KKK members? Perhaps Catholics, Baptists, Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Taoists, snake handlers and vegans?


Robert October 22, 2015 at 10:55 am

I totally agree. If someone invited a Holocaust denier to give a talk I wouldn’t tried to get them uninvited. I wouldn’t personally choose to invite them, and I might protest their views, argue with them, or ignore them, but what is the point in silencing them? I totally disagree with that position.


Jeff October 23, 2015 at 8:26 pm

Wrong. Education IS furthered by discussing Holocaust denial in history, or Creationism in biology. Clearly, time will limit just how much material can be covered, and professors must select which aspects of the subject they wish to highlight, but engaging with ideas, right, wrong, offensive, anodyne, etc., is the very essence of education. If people are shielded from the most offensive/wrongheaded views, how are they going to deal with those (and similar) views.

A deeper problem is that this approach (identifying those views that are “incorrect” and banishing them from discussion) reeks of authoritarianism and is ripe for abuse.

If you cannot see the very serious issues raised by the above (very poorly written, and even more poorly considered) editorial, with references to “safe spaces,” predetermined judgements regarding “educational value,” etc., then we are even further gone than I thought we were.


Cyn Mackley October 22, 2015 at 10:17 am

My goodness, what has happened to this generation? I was teenager in the late 70s and early 80s and I don’t understand adults who want to be protected from words that might make them sad. Journalists in training who think that speech alone is harmful and something they need to be protected from.
They want to be coddled like upper-class Victorian ladies and protected from unpleasantness or else they will swoon. What happened to robust debate? This is just depressing.


Kaye October 22, 2015 at 11:00 am

Newspaper arguing against free speech, amazing times.


aelfheld October 22, 2015 at 12:12 pm

One of the primary ‘fundamental human rights’ is free speech.

This does not mean that Williams College is obliged to provide a forum for any exercise of that right, but it is beyond risible to claim to protect ‘fundamental human rights’ by abridging same.

What is more troubling is your assertion that any institution of higher learning should provide a ‘safe space’. ‘Safe spaces’ are for children not adults. If you want to be treated as children, that’s fine, but by doing so you forfeit the privileges of adulthood. Certainly your attitude demonstrates your unfitness for responsibilities.


Doug October 22, 2015 at 12:59 pm

This opinion piece looks as if it were pulled from The Onion. Williams really retracted an invitation to a speaker because a few kids were afraid of what they might here and the event itself is called Uncomfortable Learning? Comedy gold!

College should be an intellectually dangerous place where the students ideals are challenged on a daily basis. Any student should have to think about and defend their preconceived notions on just about any topic.


Rory October 22, 2015 at 1:03 pm

Who would be an acceptable candidate for “Uncomfortable Learning” is my only question?

Obviously the line has been drawn at Suzanne Venker, but is there is anyone with an opposing view to the schools party line that is acceptable?


Deserttrek October 22, 2015 at 1:03 pm

the young ears are no longer tuned to anything they don’t like or against the brainwashing of the elite institutions ….. shame on williams and shame on the young fools who are walking down a road to mental enslavement


John McAdams October 22, 2015 at 2:13 pm

>>> Sauce for the goose might just be sauce for the gander on this one. Choosing Venker was (intentionally or not) a bit of trolling aimed at feminists on campus. <<<

What's wrong with that? Why not challenge campus feminists?

Would inviting an atheist be "trolling" Christians?

Would inviting a critic of Islam be "trolling" Muslims? (Actually, the campus left would protest inviting such a person.)

Would inviting a socialist be "trolling" business majors who want to make a lot of money?

It's only your pet victim groups that you would protect from hearing things they might object to.


Michael La Porte October 22, 2015 at 2:31 pm

In each of your hypotheticals, the answer is “it depends” – it depends on the good faith of the invite and the bona fides of the speaker.

Also, I think you might have missed my point that the “challenge” to campus feminists was to invite Venker. Its just that the campus feminists decided to accept the challenge and fight back.

Some atheists could be anti-Christian trolls. Others would not be.
Some critics of Islam would be anti-Islam trolls. Others would not be.
Some socialists would be anti-capitalist trolls. Others would not be.

Maybe the “pet victims group” here are the UL members, who apparently cannot stand their ground against those meanie feminists and liberals.


John McAdams October 22, 2015 at 2:38 pm

>>> In each of your hypotheticals, the answer is “it depends” – it depends on the good faith of the invite and the bona fides of the speaker. <<>> UL members, who apparently cannot stand their ground against those meanie feminists and liberals.<<<

Yes, they should have stood up to the liberal bullies. You people like you should be ashamed that there *are* so many liberal bullies at your school.


John McAdams October 22, 2015 at 2:40 pm

Dropped from my reply:

Who authorized you to decide who has good faith and bona fides? And to decide it for *other* people?


Michael La Porte October 22, 2015 at 3:05 pm

You have a weird view of bullying, professor. An asymetric one, some would argue given the context of Ms. Venker’s views.

FWIW, no one appointed me the arbiter of good faith or bona fides. Rather, those judgments seem to be collectively made by institutions.

Finally, as many feminists have stated (and I agree), Venker would have been fun to have on campus. By all appearances, it seems rather likely that the students would have provided an incredibly difficult intellectual challenge for her, just as they did when Professor Camille Paglia visited decades ago.

All the best,


John McAdams October 23, 2015 at 9:47 pm

>>> FWIW, no one appointed me the arbiter of good faith or bona fides. Rather, those judgments seem to be collectively made by institutions. <<<

But you are condoning what the "institutions" do.

You position, then, is that an "institution" has the right to shut up speech.

Daniel L. Schmutter October 22, 2015 at 3:06 pm

I am not a member of the Williams community, but I am a parent of a high school junior, and I am now embroiled in the college selection process with my daughter.

To put it simply, I find this editorial terrifying. Something has happened on college campuses such that ideas are now apparently to be filtered for whether they are good or bad, safe or harmful. Since when did ideas and thoughts become harmful, and since when did students require protection from them?

The editorial pays lip service to the idea that Venker’s speech may have been worthwhile, but we read further and find that the only value they saw in her speech would have been as an opportunity to refute her clearly wrong and dangerous views. The idea that free and open discourse is valuable in and of itself is utterly foreign to this editorial board.

Then we are treated to the condescending and arrogant claim that “It is difficult for an educated person who associates mostly with other liberal-minded people to understand how Venker justifies her beliefs or how she came to hold them,” as if no educated person could possibly agree with her.

I have news for the obviously sheltered members of this newspaper, when you graduate from college and go out into the world you will find many highly educated and extremely intelligent folks with whom you strongly disagree. Condescension does not become you, and will not serve you well in the real world.

John Stuart Mill said it best in his classic work “On Liberty”:

“There is the greatest difference between presuming an opinion to be true, because, with every opportunity for contesting it, it has not been refuted, and assuming its truth for the purpose of not permitting its refutation. Complete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinion, is the very condition which justifies us in assuming its truth for purposes of action; and on no other terms can a being with human faculties have any rational assurance of being right.”

I have neither read nor heard Venker, so I have no opinion on her views. But the only thing that allows you to remain satisfied that you are right about your views is that they are constantly subject to challenge and examination. Once you accept an idea as unassailable orthodoxy, its vitality withers and dies. You also forfeit the opportunity to learn new things. I can assure you that your current views will not (or at least ought not) be the ones you will take to your grave.

No college campus should be a “safe space,” at least not if “safe” means safe from ideas. A college campus must be a place that is exciting and at the same time scary. It is a place where a student will encounter concepts and thoughts they never imagined existed. Some she will embrace and some she will refute. But she must be exposed to all of them if she is to grow as a human being and if she is to thrive intellectually.

The day our campuses become safe from “harmful” ideas is the day they die.


Douglas Ross October 22, 2015 at 4:12 pm

This, from a newspaper? The editorial board should resign and turn the paper over to editors who understand the meaning of free speech. This isn’t a difficult issue. You don’t shut people up because you don’t agree with them. You’re disgracing Williams College by writing such a cowardly (and plainly ignorant) editorial. I hope prospective students will avoid Williams look for colleges where they might actually receive an education, instead of an ind0ctrination and confirmation of their biases.


Mark D'Andrea October 22, 2015 at 6:35 pm

This is a clever spoof. You almost got me! What tipped me off was the utter comedy of the Uncomfortable Learning committee cancelling a talk because there could be nothing learned by encountering uncomfortable ideas.


Alum October 22, 2015 at 8:52 pm

This comment is just for the Editorial Board, but you can publish it if you desire. In what order, exactly, are your principles? If you had to prioritize the following values, which order would you do it in?

a. Freedom of Speech
b. Sparing hurt feelings by shutting out ideas that might make some people feel badly

In this instance, you are being asked to choose between taking a stand for free speech, or taking a stand for peoples’ feelings. Both of them are worthwhile endeavors, but in life you must sometimes choose. Do you think your op-ed reflects your values? If so, it’s a scary generation we’re raising.


Ashamed October 22, 2015 at 9:50 pm

I cannot believe this is the same college I attended. Seven years since graduating, I already do not recognize the values of this generation of students as my own. The campus sounds intellectually soft: these students should be lining up 50-deep to ask searing questions of the speaker, not banning her from campus. Perhaps they fear she might get the better of them if they were actually faced off one-on-one?

I hope they all go into academia, because the real world does not care about their glass feelings.


'14 October 23, 2015 at 1:09 pm

Many current students who publicly criticized her actually did want her lecture to go through as planned – so they could, as you suggest, challenge her in a Q&A. The students who critiqued her invitation to the college shouldn’t be characterized as “intellectually soft” or cowardly; they engaged with her publicized visit through fierce criticism and debate, and many of those students hoped the debate would continue when she spoke. I think that’s exactly what we should want and expect from Williams students. But the organizers of the event, seemingly concerned for how they would be perceived on campus in the event went on, cancelled it – and they took away any opportunity for actual uncomfortable learning. And that’s a shame.

I don’t think that anyone who critiqued this lecture was at all concerned that Venker might best them in a conversation. Setting aside ideology and content, a quick read of her published work indicates that she just wouldn’t fare well in a debate, without resorting to not-so-true truisms and vague conspiracy theories.

It’s really unfortunate that even Williams alumni have accepted as fact the evident misinformation and sensationalization that’s characterized much of the national media attention on this whole thing. I’m not ashamed of the current students who spoke against Venker’s invitation – that’s their right, and it doesn’t constitute censorship, by any stretch of the imagination.

I am ashamed at my fellow graduates who have apparently lost the ability to think critically about what they read and to realize that surely they aren’t getting the full picture from the editorial pages (of national news outlets and the Record, alike).


James Bishop October 23, 2015 at 1:45 pm

‘It’s really unfortunate that even Williams alumni have accepted as fact the evident misinformation and sensationalization that’s characterized much of the national media attention on this whole thing.’ Silly. Many observers are reacting to the Willaims student newspaper’s initial editorial.


Aramis October 23, 2015 at 2:00 pm

Only they aren’t because the news stories came out far ahead of the editorial.


jean dumas October 23, 2015 at 8:33 pm

You realize that is is a newspaper advocating a level of censorship just below book burning. These are the journalist of tomorrow. Like it or not I find the I find this editorial sensacional on it own merit. Maybe as you seem to suggest the view are not representative of the student(my interpretation of your comment), if that is the case, this is a great opportunity for the student to learn who imposes standards they have to obey and how they are applied.


Robert October 23, 2015 at 2:14 pm

Perhaps the media has disproportionately presented one aspect of the controversy, but I suspect you are doing the same on the other extreme. I read many comments from students who were angered by the invitation and thought it was immoral. Even the above editorial itself, which seems to describe the controversy as a tension between “damaging” students and exposing them to uncomfortable ideas, indicates that there is more than just a healthy critique of the speaker’s views (i.e. the idea that inviting her was so painful for some people that it might be the wrong thing to do).


Jeff October 23, 2015 at 8:37 pm

The sad thing is, you know far, far less (and understand still less) than you (apparently) think you do. Part of the reason for this is unfortunate situation probably resides in the fact that your own views have not been sufficiently tested – in fact, judging from the cancellation of Venker’s talk as well as the above editorial, you probably have your own preconceptions reinforced over and over again. By now, they have probably taken on the warp and tenor of nigh on Biblical unassailability. How ironic.

A “quick read” of Venker’s published work convinced you that “she just wouldn’t fare well in a debate.” Okay, please state one of the views held by Venker that you consider to be particularly stupid or ill-considered.


Yossarian October 22, 2015 at 10:31 pm

Mario Savio is rolling in his grave. Chickensh**.


John McAdams October 27, 2015 at 9:55 pm

The truth is that the 60s leftists wanted free speech for themselves, and not for people they opposed. Remember, they felt free to shout down speakers with whom they disagreed.

The current campus authoritarians are their spiritual children.


Walter Sobchak October 23, 2015 at 12:49 am

And you are paying more than $60,000 a year for this experience? Williams students you are wasting your money and your time. Get out of there before they take your reaming intelligence and integrity away.


David Berson October 23, 2015 at 12:31 pm

I am embarrassed to be a graduate of Williams College based on this event. Closed minds cannot think or reason effectively. Question always — but to choose not to listen eliminates the ability to question.


Bill Walker October 23, 2015 at 3:02 pm

“Arguing with a speaker with whom one shares no common ground COULD amount to nothing more than each side validating its own views. ”

It could have, or it could have produced an interesting and insightful dialogue. We’ll never know now, will we?

I personally won’t get to hear the ideas, I’ll just have to take it from The Authorities that her speech was Unacceptable.


S.M. Stirling October 23, 2015 at 3:43 pm

Hurting is precisely the point and is a -good- thing. The whole point of free speech is to pile coals of fire on your head and throw doggy-do in your face and blaspheme all you consider Right and Good.

PS: the world is not a “safe space” Suck it up.


Neil P October 23, 2015 at 6:21 pm

People that ban words, ban speakers, ban music, and burn books are all the same.

If someone has an opposing political view & is expressing his or her opinions without being belligerent, why not let them speak? What are you so afraid of? Maybe you’re not well suited for university life?


Jeff October 23, 2015 at 7:50 pm

Venker’s views are not harmful to anyone, but YOUR views are. The delicious irony in your cancellation of a speaker who was to give a talk at your “Uncomfortable Learning” series is a pleasure to be savored by those with the capacity to detect irony. Would you care to identify how past speakers have challenged or changed your views? The level of coddling has reached a critical point – you and your cohorts are so clearly intellectually (and, doubtless, emotionally) immature as a result of the cocoon that has been spun around you that I truly believe you might have grounds for suing your school for intentional infliction of emotional distress!

Sane people have nothing but contempt for your views. You are bed wetters. You are proto-fascists. You are dangerously maladjusted.


Robert October 23, 2015 at 10:40 pm

I just read the Venker speech transcript online. Does anyone literally believe that hearing this speech could “damage” someone, and thus it might be justified to shield some students from it? Editorial writers — take a step back. That is obviously absolutely insane. If anyone were really that sensitive they wouldn’t survive past graduation anyhow, and they should probably take a leave of absence and get dedicated psychiatric care immediately. If people were really that weak our society would grind to a halt. No one is like that.

There is obviously something else going on that I don’t get. Maybe a small handful of people are like this, people with serious problems, but they are loud and very visible. Or maybe some of it is methaphorical. I wish a anyone for whom this makes any sense would explain it to me. I feel like I’m not getting the full picture. It is all too absurd. Williams is a fantastic school with top students. This cannot possible be a mainstream mindset.


Mac Callaway October 24, 2015 at 6:56 am

In an open, democratic society, unpopular speech can have unpopular, and even gruesome, consequences. The US Constitution now protects all forms of unpopular speech, but not the consequences (although other laws may). The action of Williams College is one of these consequences, another is the attack on Kurt Westergaard in, the Danish Muhamned cartoonist, in his home by an ax-wielding Somali.

It goes with the Territory.

The Somali was prosecuted, convicted, sentenced and punished by the Danish Criminal Justice system. There is no such option for actions such as were taken by Williams College. The college must have decided that the benefits of their unpopular a action outweighed the costs.


John October 24, 2015 at 11:24 am

The program is called “Uncomfortable Learning”…and people are debating whether it someone should speak at it because some are uncomfortable with it.

Good Lord.


John October 24, 2015 at 11:24 am

Good typo, John


Norman Birnbaum October 24, 2015 at 11:43 am

I entered Williams in 1942 as a member of the Class of 1946. Writing in very general terms, the student body were country club Republicans (with exceptions of course) and the faculty (equally with exceptions) were New Dealers with a contingent of those who were substantially more radical. Had President James Phinney Baxter taken the view that it was his duty to protect students from views which made them uncomfortable, he would have had to dismiss three of every four of his professors. Instead, he defended them against alumni (and Trustees) often rendered apoplectic by the situation. That set the foundations for Williams’ subsequent distinction. May I object to the contention that the present faculty is somehow defective? I did see quite a lot of Williams when I was teaching at Amherst from 1968 to 1979 and subsequently taught Williams graduates when I was at Georgetown’s Law faculty. The Williams faculty, by any standard, remains excellent.It should not be blamed for the views of those of its students who have seized the human right to be wrong.


Mike October 25, 2015 at 7:54 am

What pathetic children you are! “Emotional injury”? Are you kidding me? This is the future of speech in Leftist America. All discordant ideas and speakers silenced. Heretical books burned. A new Inquisition. A new Dark Age. How loathsome you are!


Chuck October 27, 2015 at 4:09 pm

I didn’t protest John Christy coming to Williams to talk climate skepticism this fall, an outdated ideology that is ignorant and somewhat offensive to those of us who work our tails off every day to build environmental consciousness and action. However, I attended his talk, and although it was painful to sit through, I found that engaging his oppositional viewpoints and asking him loaded questions helped me intellectually adjust, ameliorate, and solidify my own view. These sorts of “uncomfortable learning” opportunities are integral to creating constructive discourse and furthering the true causes that we all care for. Many movements, including feminism, are so important to progressing the culture of this school, nation, and world, but none of them are infallible. We need to work extremely hard at respectfully receiving opposition to our beliefs if we ever hope to legitimize movements such as climate action or feminism.


John C. Drew, Ph.D. October 28, 2015 at 2:27 am

I strongly recommend that people interested in this discussion check out Thomas Sowell’s book, A Conflict of Visions. It will help explain why liberals are so completely convinced that bad words can cause physical harm.

As an ex-Marxist, I can report I became a lot more comfortable around free speech once I realized that life outcomes are largely unrelated to whether or not one’s views were encouraged or contradicted as a child or young adult.

Ultimately, we do not need to risk liberal totalitarianism to fix problems that can be adequately addressed with inexpensive cognitive therapy.


Robert November 2, 2015 at 9:57 am

Thanks. I took your advice and thoroughly enjoyed it.


John C. Drew, Ph.D. November 2, 2015 at 1:42 pm


I’m glad you followed through. As an ex-liberal, I was startled at how quickly I was targeted as an enemy of the left at Williams College. I would have thought that the students at Williams would have respected me for having once held views similar to theirs and then wondered what new information had caused me to adopt more conservative views. Sowell’s book was helpful to me in understanding why so few students were interested in learning from an ex-liberal.


Baxter October 29, 2015 at 11:07 pm

Signs of a CULT: Opposing critical thinking. Do they stop you from reading anything negative about themselves? Are you told to not question what is being taught? Does the group display excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its belief system, ideology? ‪ Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished? The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society?


erik November 2, 2015 at 8:08 am

whoever wrote this should be sent to a gulag. yes I am serious.


FreedomFan November 2, 2015 at 1:25 pm

No speakers allowed who spew “legally recognized hate speech”
-Eva Fourakis, student newspaper editor and brain-dead Democrat

Hey parents, send yer kids to Williams College fer sum reel good learnin!!!


Charles Kronick '91 November 12, 2015 at 11:29 pm

Sophomoric editorial indeed.

The College representatives violated two principles, one academic, the other ethical. Refusing to air an opinion on grounds it could engender uncomfortable feelings gives undue weight to unexamined feelings and is anathema to rational and critical thought. Secondly, disinviting a guest is indecent and is never done by the mature. Do you students really see yourselves as future leaders?


Charles Kronick '91 November 12, 2015 at 11:40 pm

Who here misses Senator Joe McCarthy? I thought he was put out to pasture….


DrRST November 14, 2015 at 8:53 am

Like Jeff Thaler, I have found it hard to stay removed from this volley of discussion around S. Venker’s “dis-invitation” by the group calling themselves “Uncomfortable Learning.” First of all, I think Gaudino would be jumping for joy around the discussion generated in response to this event, turned non-event. He believed that important learning takes place in the context of tension and opposition, exactly the kind that was aroused by her anticipated attendance, as well as her non-attendance. It is in this tension, seeing ourselves in opposition to others, that we get to know who we really are. How open are you to free speech if you cannot allow others, with different opinions, the opportunity to speak? It becomes not just a challenge to know and understand their ideas in the abstract, but it challenges us, emotionally, to set aside our own sensibilities, long enough that we can begin to see the “other.” Whoever these people may be who have drastically different perspective, beliefs, and values from our own, can we approach them as human beings, with their own interests, motivations, fears, and desires, who are equally worthy of our interest and understanding. Mr. Gaudino was an equal-opportunity listener, excluding no one from being the beneficiary of his interest and understanding. If someone’s ideas represent even a small segment of the population of people who inhabit the earth, he would want to know and understand their perspective, their ideas, their values.

Some of the participants in this discussion seem to advocate that the college should only allow on campus those with reasoned, and methodologically-proven, ideas or concepts. But our world is not filled with people who only espouse ideas that have been proven through scientific discovery, and systematic investigation. People take positions that are not rationale, and that are derived from irrational belief systems, founded in their emotional experience and development. Are these components of who we are as individuals to be cordoned off from the college campus? Is it not equally important to understand the basis for behavior that is driven, not by science, or rational thinking, but by the emotional dynamics that lie beneath the surface? While recognizing that a liberal arts education has the tradition of focusing exclusively on reasoned, analytic and critical thinking, Mr. Gaudino also believed that simply “seeing” and “experiencing” others, and being aware of our thoughts and reactions to them, was valuable, hence his introduction of the use of ‘film’ in his early attempts to broaden his course structure in a manner that reached beyond a purely academic approach to learning. Gaudino saw the world as an vibrant, but “messy” place, that threatened the sense of organization and order typical of our well-controlled academic environment, but believed that part of the learning process involved a capacity to move in, and around, such a world. One of the things I believe Mr. Gaudino would revel in is the idea that the college is bringing the outside world to the college, rather than requiring the student to go ‘off’ campus to “see” and experience all that exists in it.

Central to this debate is the conflict or tension around “discomfort” and “safety.” Which of these do we choose? Should the college be a “safe” environment, or should it be an avenue toward “uncomfortable learning.” Those who advocate for “uncomfortable learning” might laugh at the idea of “trigger warnings” and the need for “safe space,” and yet this begs the question of how we create learning environments that recognize the needs of all our students. Current concerns about creating a ‘safe space’ for students should be recognized to the same extent and at the same time that we may advocate for creating discomfort. One question I think we are forced to ask is whether these are mutually exclusive propositions? Can we have it both ways, i.e. introduce ideas that are uncomfortable and emotional dangerous, while allowing for discussions and reflections that occur within an environment where all ideas are permitted, and respected.” While challenging from a pedagogical perspective, I believe we can. This does not have to happen all at once, all in the same place, or all with the same people. In my mind, the discomfort posed by Suzanne Venker can become the stimulus for discussions later held in ‘safe’ environments, where everyone’s ideas can be voiced and heard and understood, without the threats, and the devaluing and demeaning responses to which such discussions are prone, especially on the anonymous environment of the internet. There can be opportunities for discomfort, freely selected by those who want to attend, followed by those moments of reflection, with faculty who are able to create a safe environment in which people can speak freely and honestly, while respecting the views and ideas of others. While I do not believe Mr. Gaudino would have shuttered his students from the controversy and discomfort posed by such a talk, he would have insisted, if not demanded, that any discussion subsequent to it would have taken place in an environment where students respected the perspectives of their peers, in fact cherished them, as a means of both knowing themselves as well as knowing the “other.” He would have loved the idea of the students getting to know each other in a more intimate way, and that the learning environment was supporting the understanding of such differences. I think that he would have seen here, that the real threat to the students and their learning was not in Venker’s attendance, but rather that the college environment could not allow her voice to be heard, while supporting the respectful reflection on her ideas, and the feelings these ideas evoked.


JSC November 20, 2015 at 5:08 pm

Well said.

The entire episode is embarrassing and is the antithesis of most of what I learned at Williams (some 40 yrs. ago) about the value of hearing divergent views and considering them critically (and civilly) in order to be a more informed, and presumably wiser and more effective person (and leader, should one choose).

This episode reflects badly on all involved. Insulating ourselves like “special snowflakes” does a disservice to ourselves and to the community, both within Williams and the larger world in which students will find themselves. There they will have to deal with life outside the sheltered insularity that they seem to prefer.

The degree of intolerance, incivility, and lack of intellectual curiosity displayed here is appalling, whether I think that Ms. Venker’s views are wonderful or complete garbage.


HC November 26, 2015 at 10:34 am

Is the above sentiment the reason why this generation of students covered up art in The Log? Art should be banned if it is offensive, even if it is historically significant? Covered with plywood and Williams College banners?

It is odd seeing the Williams College brand used to censor art and speech.


Gary Fouse February 19, 2016 at 8:02 pm

News flash: The world is not a safe space. However, every inch of the United States is safe for free speech according to the First Amendment. That includes a college campus.


John C. Drew, Ph.D. February 24, 2016 at 12:39 am

It isn’t all bad. Zach Wood is getting a lot of positive publicity for his moral courage. My friends at The College Fix, for example, are giving him a platform and an opportunity to complain about the verbal abuse he is receiving at the hands of the Williams College community. For most of us, Zach is a real hero. Read more here…



Thankfully, Williams College students now have new opportunities to get their views out through the skillful use of social media. In the past, the administration could get away with absurd actions safe in the knowledge that there would be little or no media coverage of their mistakes.


Gary Fouse February 19, 2016 at 8:04 pm

So Venker is an opponent of feminism and for that reason she cannot speak on a college campus?



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