A recent editorial in the Wellesley College student newspaper—Wellesley, as I’m sure you know, is the alma mater of Hillary Clinton—has justly set off ethics alarms across the political spectrum. That, at least, is good news: the hostility to free thought, expression and speech that I thought had decisively corrupted one side of that spectrum apparently is not as entrenched as I thought, or at least it is being diplomatically disguised.
The editorial with the Orwellian title of “Free Speech Is Not Violated At Wellesley ” (it would have been accurate if the headline read “We Think Free Speech Is Not Violated At Wellesley Because Wellesley Hasn’t Taught Us What Free Speech Is”), contained several month’s worth of Ethics Alarms Unethical Quotes of the Week, such as
Many members of our community, including students, alumnae and faculty, have criticized the Wellesley community for becoming an environment where free speech is not allowed or is a violated right….However, we fundamentally disagree with that characterization, and we disagree with the idea that free speech is infringed upon at Wellesley. Rather, our Wellesley community will not stand for hate speech, and will call it out when possible.
Translation: We don’t oppose free speech. We just oppose speech we disagree with.
Wellesley students are generally correct in their attempts to differentiate what is viable discourse from what is just hate speech. Wellesley is certainly not a place for racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia or any other type of discriminatory speech. Shutting down rhetoric that undermines the existence and rights of others is not a violation of free speech; it is hate speech.
By this definition, the editorial itself is hate speech. This is the kind of rhetoric that Captain Kirk used to make evil computers blow their circuits on “Star Trek.”
The founding fathers put free speech in the Constitution as a way to protect the disenfranchised and to protect individual citizens from the power of the government. The spirit of free speech is to protect the suppressed, not to protect a free-for-all where anything is acceptable, no matter how hateful and damaging.
Now we know they don’t teach American History at Wellesley as well as philosophy and logic.
We have all said problematic claims, the origins of which were ingrained in us by our discriminatory and biased society. Luckily, most of us have been taught by our peers and mentors at Wellesley in a productive way. It is vital that we encourage people to correct and learn from their mistakes rather than berate them for a lack of education they could not control. While it is expected that these lessons will be difficult and often personal, holding difficult conversations for the sake of educating is very different from shaming on the basis of ignorance.
Wait, wasn’t this endorsement of indoctrination written by Lenin or Stalin? Surely this section should be in quotes with attribution.
This being said, if people are given the resources to learn and either continue to speak hate speech or refuse to adapt their beliefs, then hostility may be warranted.
I’m sorry, I just ran screaming from my office and momentarily lost my train of thought.
Pointing to the worst sections of the editorial fail to convey its gobsmacking intellectual flaccidity, smug certitude and hostility to the open exchange of ideas. We know where this came from, too: the education at Wellesley. This month, six Wellesley professors who comprise the college’s Commission on Race, Ethnicity, and Equity signed a letter maintaining that Wellesley should not allow challenges to the political and social views that the campus has decreed are the correct ones, arguing that speakers who are brought to campus to encourage debate may “stifle productive debate by enabling the bullying of disempowered groups.” Continue reading