Zachary Wood, President of Uncomfortable Learning (a group that invites controversial speakers to campus) and member of the Class of 2018 at Williams College, delivered compelling testimony on the value of free speech and viewpoint diversity in the academy at this week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on “Free Speech 101: The Assault on the First Amendment on College Campuses.”
Wood, a self-described “liberal Democrat who supports many progressive causes” sees higher education as an opportunity for “students…to engage with people and ideas they vehemently disagree with.” His full testimony is in the video below.
In one powerful section, Mr. Wood described the treatment he received from peers and others at Williams when he attempted to bring author and speaker John Derbyshire to campus through Uncomfortable Learning: “For inviting controversial speakers to campus, I’ve been labeled ‘a men’s rights activist,’ ‘a sellout,’ and ‘anti-Black,’ among other things. I’ve also been the target of implicit threats.”
But it was the administration who set the tone at Williams, and Wood reserves his most critical judgment for them:
“At Williams, the administration promotes social tolerance at the expense of political tolerance. In my time at Williams, I cannot name a single conservative speaker that has been brought to campus by the administration…In classrooms, liberal arguments are often treated as unquestionable truths. In some cases, conservative students even feel the need to refrain from stating their opinion in fear of being shutdown, or strongly disliked for doing so. I appreciate the desire of my administration to make Williams a college in which all students feel included. Yet I deplore the state of free speech and intellectual freedom on my campus.”
Wood’s experiences confirm the low rating Williams receives on our recently released Guide to Colleges. Wood describes the stifling atmosphere that results when a college becomes a politically orthodox echo chamber. Will Williams take steps to change in the future?