'They were saying we wanted to kill them with hate speech': Prof exposes Mass. school’s anti-free speech culture

After students at a Massachusetts school applauded a speaker for his anti-free speech views, a professor spoke out on her institution’s anti-free speech campus culture.

Biology professor at Williams College, Luana Maroja, spoke with So to Speak podcast host Nico Perrino about the issue of free speech at the college, according to free speech nonprofit the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). 

The episode, titled “Words, Violence, and Censorship at Williams College,” detailed a student body that strives for self-censorship and even delivered a standing ovation to campus speaker Reza Aslan when he, according to Maroja, “said that colleges should write rules on stone on who can and cannot speak [o]n campus.”

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“He ended up saying that only factual talks can happen [o]n campus. So, opinions cannot be expressed – only factual talks,” Maroja said of Aslan’s talk. “And again, a standing ovation from students.” 

This culture may be attributed to the history of the school’s administration. 

As Perrino pointed out, there was an incident during which the university president at the time “unilaterally disinvited” a controversial speaker desired by a campus group. The host appeared to be referring to the school’s dis-invitation of VDARE.com writer John Derbyshire, who had previously been fired from The National Review.

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Students “relayed to me how this debate over free speech and what speakers can be invited to campus is kind of all-consuming at Williams,” the podcast host said. “The debate over safety and whether physical safety is different from psychological safety and bringing certain speakers to campus can actually be considered violence in some cases.”

Maroja disputed the idea that campus speakers should be filtered by ideology. 

“I would go to all these talks and that’s one thing I gained a lot from those debates is learning the opponents’ arguments so that you can better your own arguments,” she mentioned about her experience as a graduate student at Cornell University. “So, that’s one example of how the speech that I considered hateful, if you will, could actually teach me a lot of stuff.”

Williams College professors convened to address the growing issue of free speech repression on campus. 

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“We decided that it was time that we adopted the Chicago principles of free expression [o]n campus,” Maroja described. “We had a couple days scheduled for discussion. The students heard about this.” 

“I heard from college council that the students were planning on breaking into our meeting. I emailed the students. I explained we were not voting. But they still came. They had signs saying ‘free speech harms’ and they disrupted the meeting throughout. They were saying we wanted to kill them with hate speech.”

In late June, Williams President Maud Mandel told the campus community about the completion of a report by a “committee on inquiry and inclusion” that he had convened. 

”The Committee recommends that the college ‘publish and affirm a statement on expression and inclusion,’” the president said. “I strongly agree that Williams would benefit from such a statement, and I’ll develop a draft this summer in consultation with the Faculty Steering Committee and the Ad Hoc Committee itself. The statement, too, will be available for discussion next fall.”

Mandel said that he accepts all of the committee’s suggestions. But, as pointed out in a blog post to which Maroja directed Campus Reform, the committee singled out “hate speech” as something that “threatens dignitary safety,” without providing much further detail.

Williams College is also under federal investigation for its denial of a campus pro-Israel group, recently reported by Campus Reform

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @ethanycai