Zachary Wood has advocated for viewpoint diversity in front of students, senators, and everyday citizens. But before he got to Washington and the TED stage, Wood was a student at Williams College. It was there that he first made a name for himself in the viewpoint diversity community and on campus. He served as president of Uncomfortable Learning, a student-run, alumni-funded organization that encourages students to understand and engage with often provocative and uncomfortable viewpoints. By bringing such speakers to campus, Wood sometimes earned the ire of his fellow students and a censoring response from the president of Williams.
As a senior at Williams, Wood authored viewpoint diversity advocacy pieces in national publications, like The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, which led to an invitation he could not refuse. At the behest of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2017, Wood delivered the opening statement at its hearing,“Free Speech 101: The Assault on the First Amendment on College Campuses.”
Wood, a self-described “liberal Democrat who supports many progressive causes,” used the experience to spotlight higher education as an opportunity for “students… to engage with people and ideas they vehemently disagree with.”
Soon thereafter, Wood delivered a popular TED talk whose title says it all: “Why it’s worth listening to people you disagree with. “
As part of his remarks, he noted “… tuning out opposing viewpoints doesn’t make them go away, because millions of people agree with them. By engaging with controversial and offensive ideas, I believe that we can find common ground… Through engaging, I believe that we may reach a better understanding, a deeper understanding, of our own beliefs and preserve the ability to solve problems, which we can’t do if we don’t talk to each other and make an effort to be good listeners.”
As the Robert L. Bartley Fellow at The Wall Street Journal, he recently completed his book, Uncensored: My Life and Uncomfortable Conversations at the Intersection of Black and White America, published by Dutton in 2018.
“In Uncensored,” reads the publicity statement, “he reveals for the first time how he grew up poor and black in Washington, DC, in an environment where the only way to survive was to resist the urge to write people off because of their backgrounds and their perspectives.”
Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. called the book a “remarkably honest memoir… a veritable bildungsroman, tracing his journey from high school scholarship student… to leader of the free speech movement at Williams College” while former Ambassador Susan Rice said, “His willingness to confront opposing views and engage ideological adversaries is brave and important at a time when political polarization is challenging our national strength.”
In the fall, Wood will join The Atlantic as an Assistant Editor of the magazine.
For his tireless work bringing viewpoint diversity to the Williams campus as well as to government influencers and a general audience, Wood is the recipient of our inaugural HxA Open Mind Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Student.
In response to the recognition, Wood said “I was both thrilled and honored when I received the news. I admire the work that HxA has done to promote viewpoint diversity in higher education and it means a great deal to know that their intellectual community finds my advocacy worthy of such an honor.”
Truly, the honor is ours.