The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Last week, a Williams College student group decided to cancel a lecture by Suzanne Venker in response to outspoken criticism from other students. Since then, the group has had second thoughts. According to Reason, the student group sought to reinvite Venker, but she is unlikely to accept. The speech she would have given is available here.
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.
She goes on to write that student groups should be free to invite speakers to campus from any perspective, "provided of course that these speakers do not participate in forms of legally recognized hate speech." Huh? There is no such thing as "legally recognized hate speech." So-called "hate speech" is entitled to full First Amendment protection—which is something I would think the editor in chief of the student newspaper at one of the nation's premier undergraduate institutions would know. I also don't quite understand her claim that student groups should consider "the potential for their speech to discriminate against members of our community" when inviting speakers.
Meanwhile, some of Venker's student critics who had planned to protest her speech comment on the Williams Alternative, as does an anonymous member of the Williams community with a slightly different perspective.