When a Black Student Dares to Speak Up for Free Speech

Zachary Wood is a remarkable young man. He’s black, attends a predominantly liberal elite college (Williams) and believes that robust and civil arguments are vital to America’s continuing success.

He is the president of a student group at Williams called Uncomfortable Learning (UL), which has the mission of bringing to campus notable speakers who can articulate a wide range of perspectives.

Recently, UL sponsored a talk by philosophy professor Christina Hoff Sommers, who is a well-known critic of many of the claims of feminism (see her video blog, The Factual Feminist). She calmly and rationally argues a case that many young liberal students find jarring. Her opinions clash with so much they’ve been taught. That is what makes her an ideal campus speaker.

How did the students at Williams react to Sommers? Many of them reacted like angry children, snickering, yelling insults, and ranting instead of listening, thinking, and asking questions.

You can see the video of Professor Sommers’ talk here.

Responding to her treatment, Wood wrote a superb piece in the Nov. 17th Wall Street Journal entitled “At Williams, a Funny Way of ‘Listening.’” He expressed his disappointment in both the students and the Williams administration.

“After one student shouted ’f-you!’ at the speaker, an administrator seemed to affirm the heckler’s veto, signaling to me with a timeout gesture that it was time to end the event,” Wood wrote. “In an effort to give as many students as possible a chance to engage the speaker, I approached the administrator and negotiated another 15 minutes for questions. But the remainder of the Q&A consisted mostly of bellicose rhetoric and long-winded stories of personal trauma, many of which had little to do with the topic at hand.”

Most disappointing of all was the response of the school’s president, Adam Falk. Wood explains that following that UL event, Falk wrote in the Washington Post that “our students listened closely, then responded with challenging questions and in some cases blunt critiques.”

The problem with that characterization, Wood wrote, is that it “grossly misrepresents what happened.” Many students acted disruptively during Sommers’ talk and as for those “challenging questions,” there were far more “personal attacks, directed either at her or at me for inviting her.” Perhaps the most egregious affront of all was that a group of students yelled that she was “stupid, harmful, and white supremacist.”

Christina Hoff Sommers is not stupid, not a white supremacist, and if she’s “harmful,” that harm is confined to the small minds of college students who can’t stand it when people disagree with the beliefs that have been instilled in them.

Wood himself is getting blowback from some of his fellow students for what they regard as his treasonous act of bringing to campus a speaker who disagrees with the leftist belief system. He reports that members of the Black Student Union are shunning him. “I expect this kind of recrimination. But I can’t speak for other students who’ve told me they worry about how their interest in my group (UL) may affect their relationship with their black classmates,” he wrote.

“In my time at Williams, I cannot name a single conservative speaker that has been brought to campus by the administration.”

The intolerant academic Left has a determined foe in Zachary Wood and that is especially remarkable because he describes himself as a liberal Democrat. Last summer he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings on the state of free speech on our college campuses. This Heterodox Academy article contains a link to the video of his testimony.

Alerting the members of the Committee (and anyone else who is willing to listen) about the way college campuses have become hostile terrain for anyone who questions leftist beliefs, Wood stated, “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.”

It’s a deplorable state of affairs when college students – especially at an elite school – won’t listen respectfully to speakers and indulge in virtue signaling by turning their backs on other students who favor dialogue and civility.

Wood is a senior, so it will fall to other students to keep up the battle to bring non-leftist speakers to Williams after he graduates. Will others be willing to face the slings and arrows that leftist zealots direct at anyone who dares to challenge their beliefs and tells them that they ought to listen to what conservatives and libertarians have to say?

Williams will be much the worse off if no one will continue to speak up for “Uncomfortable Learning” the way Zachary Wood has.

  • bandmom

    Clearly that Wood guy is not really black.

    • Bill Kilgore Trout

      Yep, his heart is just not black enough. No matter what your color, the Left wants you to have a heart of darkness — at least when you are “listening” to someone who makes your learning uncomfortable.

  • rsdfwd

    After all of that, how is he still a liberal Democrat? Did he not listen to any of the contrary opinions from the speakers that they brought in?

  • Andrew Wilks

    Now that Trump is president, you got your share of university staff that bring speakers spewing hateful things against the will of student body and other campus staff. This did not happen with all the other previous presidents of my lifetime i will say as a 45 year old. If speakers spewing hateful nasty things would of been invited even during the reagan administration, the campus staff that would of done that even 30 some years ago would of been punished for such an act while the student body and other campus staff that stood up to hateful ideas would of been praised for taking a stand against the speakers-even 30 some years ago. Speakers such as Milo and Charles Murray promote hateful bigoted ideas. Earlier in the year when the student body stood up to these speakers, they were unjustly called intolerant and rude for standing up to hate. Free speech is one thing but to use that as a reason to invite racist ableist homophobic sexist etc speakers to spew their hate i feel is totally unacceptable. The students here and the students mentioned above should be praised for taking a stand. Not called rude small minded and intolerant. I feel it is wonderful that student body and other staff push back and that organization called UL should be dismantled. Using free speech as an excuse to spew hateful nasty things against the will of most and majority is not how democracy works. The founding fathers of the USA back in late 1700s founded this country on We The People as in for the people by the people. With that said bringing speakers to campuses that most people on campus do not want to hear goes not only against the will of the people there, but also against what the founding fathers founded our country on. Also when our founding fathers meant freedom of speech in the constitution, they meant being free to disagree with government and speak out against government without being punished for it unlike the monarchy of England back then. With this said, freedom of speech does not mean bringing speakers with hateful ideas against the will of most and majority either. The most and majority here are the ones that are truly having their free speech and we the people violated. The founding fathers if they heard about trump and these violations against majority on campuses, they would flip out on their graves praising the student body and whatever staff that disagreed with speakers. The staff involved with bringing controversial speakers with hateful ideas should be deeply ashamed of themselves. Just as this nation was founded on fair and just principles, campuses and universities should also continue to follow the example of the founding fathers as they always have before Trump became president by continuing to not allow speakers with controversial and hateful ideas to come to campuses to speak against will of majority and most. It is ashame and upsetting that there should have to be campus staff violating the rights of the most and majority in the name of Donald Trump going against we the people and what free speech in this country really means.

  • Andrew Wilks

    I will add to that although Reagan was infamous for welfare bashing using terms such as welfare queen, Reagan also made a famous speech in front of United Nations stating how the planet would all put our differences aside if there were an alien invasion. I mention this because i feel that statement at UN proves that what is being allowed today on campus against will of most would not of been tolerated even during reagan as mentioned on my post 15 minutes ago. Trump and his idiocracy would not even think of going in front of UN uttering what Reagan said there.

    • John200

      If you meant to say “President Trump and his brilliantocracy” then you made some sense.

      Otherwise, this was not such a good day for you.

      President Trump (through Ambassador Haley) has demonstrated what the UN is good for, and not-so-good for.

    • Liberty51

      What does that add? Your comment has no bearing at all on the substance of the article.

  • Andrew Wilks

    I see the main post that I originally posted got deleted. Why it did, I do not know. It is the truth that freedom of speech is abused and mis used allowing for hate speech against the will of student body by bringing in speakers that go against anybody that is not white, christian, has a disability, is a female, etc… Like i said in my long deleted post, bringing in such speakers goes against we the people, for the people, and by the people and goes against what the founding fathers of this nation intended. The student body and the staff that did not agree with the hateful views of people such as Milo, and Charles Murray are the ones having their rights violated. Not the people who invited the hateful speakers. The university staff that invite speakers such as the one mentioned above, Milo, Charles Murray, should be ashamed of themselves. Anybody who supports hateful views against certain people should be ashamed of themselves. Just because Trump is president does not mean people like Milo and Murray should be invited to a campus to spew their evil against the will of student body and other disagreeing staff members. It is not right that the student body should be villified as rude, small minded, and intolerant when the ones who are being truly intolerant are the speakers themselves and the ones who invite such speakers disrespecting the rights of most of student body and disagreeing staff members. To anybody that disagrees with my post and that deleted my original post-How would you feel if you were the student body and your wishes not to have a controversial speaker at campus were violated disrespecting your views? How would you feel if you were forced to listen to someone elses bigoted views? It is unacceptable that there are bullies such as Milo and Murray being aloud to come on campus against will of most to spew their evil abusing the original meaning of free speech. Like I said on my deleted post, freedom of speech in constitution means being aloud to criticize your government without fear of persecution. Freedom of speech does not mean allowing bullies to come on campus to spread their vile evil. Like I said on deleted post also, even Ronald Reagan would not of approved of speakers like Milo and Charles Murray and what has been happening on campuses this past year leading me to my left alone post about Reagan above. If there would of been a campus staff member back in 1980s inviting a speaker on campus that promotes inequality, speaker even back then would of been shutdown and student body would of been praised. Not villified.
    Just because Trump is president should not give anybody the right to spread hateful evil views targeting groups of people nor does it give us the right to abuse original intent of freedom of speech disrespecting the students and disagreeing staff through these bully speakers.