Our editorial last week on free speech received extensive coverage from our community and from outside sources. In light of the ensuing discussion, we wish to clarify that we did not remove the editorial from our website. Increased internet traffic exceeded our monthly limit of program executions and caused our website to crash. Furthermore, we wish to clarify that our editorial was specifically a response to events that occurred within the Wellesley College community. Wellesley encourages discourse regarding campus events that affect either the student body or the campus climate. These incidents transpired on multiple community platforms, including email and social media. Our editorial was meant to be a commentary on these specific events, but we refrained from including specifics in order to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.
In recent years, our community has neither threatened nor denied a speaker the right to present at Wellesley based on their ideas and has made efforts to encourage productive dialogue surrounding controversial issues. In instances where there were dissenting reactions to events on campus, such as the recent defacing of posters, students and faculty responded appropriately with the intention of promoting respect on campus. In essence, we have exercised our right to free speech in the form of disagreement. When a visiting lecturer comes to campus to share their beliefs, the audience should have an opportunity to object to those perspectives. Wellesley students are not complacent when a guest speaker offers harmful rhetoric. Unlike the events that transpired at Middlebury College in early March in which a speaker and professor were attacked, we have neither engaged in the violent silencing of opposing opinions, nor do we support such actions. Instead, Wellesley students listen to and understand those that differ from us regarding politics, religion and other sensitive topics and respond with productive discourse.
Wellesley will not be labeled an echochamber of liberal opinions while we have demonstrated concerted efforts to seek out well-evidenced opinions that differ from ours. We have the right to speak freely and to debate opinions. In the coming years, we will continue to do just that — never with violence, but with constructive dialogue. Yet, even as we exercise our right to object, onlookers are offended by our audacity. It would be against our principles as a place of intellectual conversation to deny free debate through respectful avenues.
Wellesley is viewed as a laboratory for left-wing feminism, namely due to several prominent alumnae closely associated with our college. While our institution does train young women to be industry leaders, attacking us is not a proxy for criticizing Wellesley alumnae. Media attention seems to arise from the fact that we, as students from a predominantly women’s college, are willing to speak out about important issues that affect us.
Several writers have taken it upon themselves to defend freedom of speech in response to our editorial. Even as they attempt to safeguard their interpretation of this right, they seem unable to dissociate their judgments from overtly sexist commentary. Comments and tweets responding to our article referred to us as having “our pantyhose in a twist over free speech…” and then sarcastically called us “tough broads.” Others told us to “listen to the man in the house” and “get back in the kitchen.” We do not resist disagreement to our claims, but we do resist insults that are explicitly sexist and denigrate us simply for being women. Despite our editorial not including any issues regarding gender, many of the criticisms have centered around this aspect of our identity.
We welcome discourse on free speech and on how we define and defend it, but the responses have largely been irrelevant to the conversation we sought to develop. Instead, they have relied heavily on ad hominem attacks on not what we said but who we are — attacks that do not further discourse in the slightest.
When women become actively involved in the political sphere, we are often met with commentary that is sexist or accused of propagating misandry. We are deviating from the standard by voicing our objections, and that is considered a threat to freedom of speech.
However, the line most commonly pulled from last week’s editorial referenced hostile retaliation in cases of dissent. To be clear, this statement was misconstrued as a call for violence against oppressive speech. We neither condone violence as a form of disagreement, nor have we used brutality in our community. Instead, we are committed to protecting our students’ right to feel safe on campus.
Nevertheless, there is something threatening to modern society about women exercising independent thought. Those that are offended by the editorial and thus inclined to write and tweet about events at Wellesley are exercising their First Amendment rights. We are exercising ours by disagreeing. To refuse to continue to engage with our opinion is to be guilty of the same infringement of freedom with which we are charged. The world suppresses women’s voices even while demanding the recognition of uncensored expression.
We respect free speech at Wellesley. We reiterate that there is a line between free speech and hate speech. We fight not against free speech, but to protect members of our community from language that harms or threatens their well-being. Thus, we respect the right to use speech to challenge other views. We will listen to and dismantle arguments and opinions that threaten a person’s ability to speak freely.