If you are having trouble grasping the bizarre phenomenon of students at some of our most elite institutions of higher education expressing horror at the idea of such places being the venues for the free and open exchange of ideas and centers of information exchange, knowledge acquisition and intellectual development--have I got the perfect specimen of this new censorship regime for you.
Take a gander at this staff editorial of October 27, 2021 in the student newspaper of Wellesley College, The Wellesley News. The piece is entitled, tellingly, Editorial: In protecting free speech, Wellesley threatens others’ freedoms. And what are these other freedoms that censorship and free speech throttling is designed to protect?
You tell me. Read this:
…speakers have brought harm to students, with opinions that seek to suppress and diminish their freedom to exist in a safe space without core aspects of their identity being questioned
Apparently, this sweeping statement means that if a man is convinced that he is a woman every actual woman is supposed to go along with his delusion even if this means that doing so requires them to disconnect from basic biological reality.
That is, if some six foot eight male demands to be referred to as “she” and “her” the five foot two actual woman who declines to go along with this insult to genuine womanhood has “brought harm” and has diminished the freedom of said hulking man to exist in a “safe space” (previously known as a college) without core aspects of his (not her) identity being questioned.
What is really astonishing about this editorial is that it appears in the student newspaper of a college that was founded in 1870 to advance the cause of the education of women at a time when only a handful of colleges were open to them.
And the women who wrote this editorial want to ban other women (i.e., their classmates) from hearing from other women (i.e., journalists, scholars and activists) because these female speakers make arguments that upset the editorialists. And this is all in the name of “safe spaces.”
Here are some of the women who are deemed “unsafe” by these woke student journalists (a group, one would think, that would want to support free speech, not argue that it should be curtailed) and why:
Alice Dreger: This is all rather complex, but basically Dreger’s crime in the eyes of the student editorialists was to question some of the shibboleths of the transgender movement. Dreger argues, for instance, that it makes sense to not automatically resort to mutilating surgery for little girls who express, as little girls sometimes do, the desire to be boys.
Laura Kipnis: Her crime seems to be that is not healthy for young women to feel themselves under constant threat and to regard all men as potential sexual assailants. Kipnis even has the audacity to argue that males in university settings accused of sexual misconduct should be granted some basic due process rights.
Kristan Hawkins: Her crime seems to be that she is a pro-life Christian activist. That is somehow “harmful” and “unsafe.”
So, here we have three articulate women who personify in their strength of character, intelligence and public prominence the sort of women that one would think the editorialists at a women’s college would laud. But noooooooo. They are not woke. They are unsafe.
The writers do, interestingly, refer to:
the importance of free speech and pluralism
but then go on to suggest that if enough people want to quash speech, then speech should be quashed:
Dreger was met with overwhelming student backlash
(Could it be that one or two students wanted to hear what Dreger had to say—what about their rights?)
The writers employ the language of “safety”:
speakers who made students feel uncomfortable or unsafe
Who would have thought that the alma mater of tough women such as Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton, Diane Sawyer, Nora Ephron and so forth would become home to such delicate flowers as the writers of this editorial? I guess none of those prominent women ever had to learn to deal with anything that was “uncomfortable.”
These scaredy cat editorialists seem to regard the mere presence on their campus of those whose ideas are not way to the left (it is not as though Dreger or Kipnis are even mildly conservative—they are straightforward feminists, truth be told) as unacceptably alarming:
…little has been done since 2019 to take accountability or prevent the presence of people espousing views that pose extensive harm to students. Rather than apologizing for the harm the administration’s inaction has caused in the past or present, President Paula Johnson “respect[ed] the right of [Wellesley for Life] to choose her as its speaker.”
Whoa—the president of an American university defended the right of a student group to invite to campus a speaker of the group’s own choice? Whatever is the world coming to!!
Chillingly, the writers demand some sort of reprisal against pro-life students for inviting to address their group a, you know, pro-life speaker:
Wellesley for Life should take accountability for bringing someone on campus whose presence was deeply distressing to their fellow classmates
What a weird attitude. If you have pro-life views and wish to listen to a notably effective advocate for those views, you deeply are distressing your peers. Let that sink it. The editorialists are basically saying that the very presence of a pro-life spokesperson on the Wellesley College is traumatizing for some unnamed students.
Note the slightly threatening tone of the word “accountability”—as if widening the range of discourse and topics of discussion and intellectual diversity of invited speakers is something that must be punished. What form does “accountability” take? Disbanding your student group?
Moreover, veto powers vis-à-vis speaking invitations are to be bestowed on certain favored groups:
We think it is equally important for President Johnson to respect the rights of students who are transgender, who have had abortions and who are not able-bodied to feel safe on their college campus.
Since when did women who have had abortions get granted this sort of special status? Or that women who think they are men should get it, too? These people are to henceforth vet and okay the speakers allowed at Wellesley.
And look at this:
when these talks, when injected into mainstream discussion, also threaten the safety and legitimacy of students and their voices, it is time to reevaluate if these speakers are really spreading the theme of “freedom of expression” on campus
“Safety” means do not allow pro-life speakers to appear at Wellesley College. “Safety” means do not allow anyone who questions the idea that all men who are accused of sexual misconduct are automatically guilty to appear at Wellesley College. “Legitimacy” means that a person of one sex who claims to be of another can never, ever be questioned on that point and that others can be forced to address that person as she or he demands. And wokeness is now “mainstream discussion.”
And look at this Orwellian proposal:
We propose a dual vetting system for future speakers at the College, regardless of which organization brings them to campus, involving the Office of Student Involvement (OSI) and the College Government Committee on Organization Recognition Affairs (CORA). The criteria for allowing future speakers on campus is simple: “Wellesley’s policies strongly prohibit discrimination and harassment based on sex, gender identity or expression, and sexual orientation, among other legally protected bases, and Wellesley requires that all student-invited speakers be advised in advance of Wellesley’s commitment to nondiscrimination and diversity on our campus,” according to President Johnson’s own email statement.
The key phrase there, of course is this:
regardless of which organization brings them to campus
In other words, a pro-life or, say a Trump-friendly group, would have to have its speakers approved by a sort of woke tribunal—all in the name of, you guessed it, “diversity.” This is a naked power grab by the wokesters.
And note the use of the vague but chilling word “harm” here—as if speech itself and ideas themselves are contagions or cudgels:
flawed conceptualization of unfettered “freedom” has remained pervasive among certain groups on campus, as well as the administration’s responses to harm inflicted by speakers
it is more dire than ever to prevent future harm
Here, speech itself is treated as a weapon wielded against unnamed students at Wellesley. It is to be controlled and regulated so sweepingly and in such a blatantly discriminatory fashion that certain subjects (e.g., immigration, abortion law, affirmative action, police reform, gun rights, transgenderism, sexual assault policies on university campuses, critical race theory) will not be addressed except from woke perspectives.
Why should you care what a group of anonymous editorial writers at a tony women’s college writes in its student newspaper?
I’ll tell you why—because as the list of prominent women (Hillary Clinton et al) mentioned above indicates, in later life graduates of elite schools like Wellesley assume important positions in our country and staff much of the policy making apparatus in government as well as wield influence in academia, the nonprofit sector (which, through grant-making, can determine careers), the corporate world and so on. This open advocacy of debate stifling and the cordoning of ideas will not remain only at Wellesley and its ilk. They not only disapprove of non-woke ideas and do not want to listen to them. They want to ensure that no one else even learns such ideas exist. And the people who are writing this editorial are college students. Why are they even in college if knowledge is noxious to them? (Answer: to gain power after graduation.)
The language of “harm” and “safety” is a direct attack on those who dissent from the woke agenda. What could be more career wrecking than to be tarred as “unsafe”—to be labeled a crank or a menace for, say, expressing pro-life views or refusing to surrender to the transgender monolith by agreeing to the effacing of the words “female," "women," and "mothers" and referring instead to “birthing people?”
The reference to “future harm” means that Wellesley students will not be given the option of boycotting speakers whose positions on certain they don’t like or listening to unfamiliar arguments and pondering them. It means that such speakers and arguments will be banned entirely and never invited to speak at Wellesley in the first place . And not just conservative ones. The positions of someone like Kipnis aren’t remotely right-wing. They are run-of-the-mill pro-due process views and what used to be mainstream feminism (i.e., regarding women are self-assured human beings, not psychologically fragile victims to be).
This sort of shameless censorship isn’t happening only at Wellesley College. That’s the scariest thing of all.