Behind the resolution: How College Council protects free speech

Last Tuesday, College Council (CC) passed a resolution entitled “A Resolution in Support of Free, Open, and Honest Dialogue at Williams College.” Our goal in crafting the resolution was to enshrine the right to freedom of speech on this campus while also protecting individuals’ rights to disagree with one another and engage in protest. The resolution stems from months of thought and conversation about where the College should stand in the world of discourse that surrounds us.

We both believe that one of the defining elements of our education is the platform that the College provides us with to listen to and engage with a multitude of viewpoints. Interacting with a diverse set of viewpoints is an instrumental part of our liberal arts education, as it ingrains in us both the ability, and the inclination, to think critically about the world around us.

The intent of this resolution is not to police the tone of debate, determine the acceptability of particular acts of free speech or allow CC to restrict discussion on campus. Instead, the resolution proactively makes a statement: here at the College, we want to ensure that no one encroaches on the space that is necessary for dialogue and debate to occur and flourish.

Protecting only the expression of views with which we are comfortable means abandoning a core tenet of higher education: questioning and confronting our pre-existing beliefs so that we can emerge from our college experience as engaged and critical thinkers.

This resolution affirms both the right to freedom of speech on campus and the rights to protest and disagree. It continues to foster a community where individuals can state opposing views and work together to learn from each other. It elevates the importance of dialogue on our campus. It expresses the CC’s disdain for speech that encourages violence or prejudice towards others in our community. It unconditionally rejects the use of violence or threats of violence to discourage speech. With this resolution, we affirm the voices of all individuals and protect those voices that promote ideas outside of mainstream norms.

We want to thank all those members of CC with whom we have had extensive conversations over the past weeks and months to better inform the resolution. We also would like to thank more than one hundred of our classmates and peers for taking the time to speak with us. Throughout the process, we very much enjoyed our conversations and appreciated everyone’s feedback, which helped us write a more inclusive and effective resolution. For more information and the full wording of the resolution, please visit the CC’s website and click on the Documents tab.

Kevin Mercadante ’17 is an economics major from Garden City, N.Y. He lives in Poker Flats. Hanson Koota ’17 is an art and chemistry double major from Belle Meade, N.J. He lives in Spencer.