To the Editor:
Recent events on campus have generated a large amount of passionate, principled and productive discussion about freedom of inquiry and its status at the College. This discussion was motivated by the unfortunate circumstances surrounding an Uncomfortable Learning event and its potential protest. The student, faculty and staff members of Phi Beta Kappa (PBK), a national honors society dedicated to the love of learning and the principles of free inquiry and freedom of thought and expression, have continued this discussion. We officers now wish to publicly re-affirm our commitment to our principles and reach out to all members of the Williams community in support of free inquiry.
What does that mean for you? First, we strongly hold that every member of the Williams community should be free to explore any idea in a way consistent with the individual rights of those members. These are ideals; the actual expression of this freedom will always be in the context of the College’s Code of Conduct. We note that many may disagree on how to best achieve these ideals, but we encourage the community to work toward these ideals through civil discourse.
Second, we strongly support the full range of student learning activities at the campus and the free inquiry and liberty of thought and expression found therein. These activities include curricular, extracurricular, intellectual and cultural events, as well as peaceful civil protest. Should any student group wish to have an activity co-sponsored by PBK, we will be happy to work with it to support free and civil dialogue on campus.
Finally, we plan to promote this dialogue through open discussions and other events on campus and to work with faculty to reflect on free inquiry and its intersection with the many diverse viewpoints found within our community.
Why are we stating this now? We find much of the recent discussion to be part of the healthy back and forth between students of the liberal arts and sciences. Students at the College are articulate, creative, passionate and inspiring. We do not want the negativity of the recent past to limit our future. To that end, we officers – and a majority of our student, faculty and staff membership – agreed to co-sponsor the most recent Uncomfortable Learning event. While this co-sponsorship was not an endorsement of the speaker or the group Uncomfortable Learning, and while our decision was not unanimous, we all believe it is important that members of our community feel free to discuss issues and ideas without fear of reprisal or intimidation. We strongly support free inquiry for everyone.
We look forward to continuing the discussion, and welcome feedback from the entire community. Keep thinking, keep talking, keep questioning, keep it civil and keep it safe!
Steven J. Miller, PBK faculty president and associate professor of mathematics
Frederick W. Strauch, PBK secretary-treasurer and associate professor of physics
Christopher Bravo ’16, PBK student co-president
Blake Mackall ’16, PBK student co-president