Last Wednesday, we published an editorial titled “Uncomfortable or damaging?: Debating the merits and detriments of harmful speech on campus.” Since the publication of this editorial, students, alumni and the national media have criticized the Record for arguing in favor of limitations on free speech. I believe this is a valid criticism. Although it was not our intent, I understand and accept that our editorial, as written, does advocate for limited free speech, and that was a mistake.
This letter is not a result of backlash but rather a result of the discussions that have occurred amidst that backlash. While we intended to critique the initial choice of inviting Suzanne Venker to campus, we did not intend to critique the right of Uncomfortable Learning to bring her to campus or the right of her ideas to be present here. Each time we silence one perspective or label it as “dangerous,” we compromise the freedom of speech. A newspaper – campus or otherwise – should never advocate to limit speech.
Students should not face restrictions in terms of the speakers they bring to campus, provided of course that these speakers do not participate in forms of legally recognized hate speech. Students have an equal right to protest these decisions and speakers. While it is my hope, and our suggestion in the editorial, that students who invite speakers to campus consider the educational value of these speakers, as well as the potential for their speech to discriminate against members of our community, it is ultimately up to the respective students to decide whether to invite a speaker to campus. Imposing limits based on a majority-defined notion of educationally-valuable or harmful ideas is a dangerous step to take.
We always welcome critique of our editorials, as their purpose is to further conversation regarding relevant issues. I am grateful for the conversations that occurred after the publication of the editorial, for it is through conversations like these that we improve as a paper and as a community.
Editor-in-chief, The Williams Record