The Wellesley News Editorial Board understands the college’s desire to minimize its liability in the event that harm comes to a member of the community. However, in practice, efforts towards this end almost always have the effect, intended or otherwise, of restricting the community’s freedom of mobility and expression. With a handful of exceptions—the youngest members of the Class of 2022 and students who skipped grades—we are all legal adults. This is not a boarding school, where teachers and administrators are obligated to keep their students under strict control. Although the student body refers to Wellesley as a “bubble,” it is part of the real world, and its students should enjoy the freedoms that come with it. Therefore, The Wellesley News will always encourage students to exercise their freedoms of movement and expression––even when that comes at the cost of the college’s liability.
Prior to the start of the fall semester, the Wellesley community was embroiled in controversy when senior administration debuted its Protest and Demonstration Policy at Student Leader training. Students, faculty and staff were reasonably upset about the policy because it restricted the freedom of movement and expression in our community. After the tireless efforts of activists, the administration rescinded the policy. We at The Wellesley News would like to commend the administration for repealing their poorly-executed Interim Protest and Demonstration Policy. With that being said, we would also like to reiterate our commitment to supporting and defending our freedom as legal adults to protest on our own campus. Throughout the history of Wellesley College, disruptive protest has been one of the only ways students have been able to inspire change on campus, and we must preserve our ability to disrupt if we want this institution to continue to improve. To have a system that would mandate demonstrators petition for administrative approval is fundamentally inane, as the act of protest is inherently a demonstration of disapproval.
Student protests are what convinced Wellesley to divest from institutions that supported the Apartheid system in South Africa. Student protests are what created an Ethnic Studies major. Student protest forced this school to admit more students who identify as members of minority groups. When this institution has resisted progress historically, students have pushed it to reconsider.
We are living in a time where institutions of higher learning are considering how to best address the issue of free speech and controversy on campus. There have been countless incidents at other universities which have resulted in huge amounts of property damage and negative press. There have also been cases where people have been injured at demonstrations. It is understandable that the administration has no desire to see such events occur here. However, students at Wellesley and at other universities are legal adults. Therefore, we should be trusted to make decisions about our safety and understand the consequences. To take actions such as the Interim Protest and Demonstration Policy originally proposed, regardless of the reason—and even in the case of genuine and understandable motives, such as liability or safety concerns—would have unacceptably infantilizing and repressive consequences. We as students came to Wellesley to grow and strengthen our voices, not to have them quieted or moderated to suit administrative wishes.
We are a powerful force, and should not be infantilized in Wellesley’s attempt to maintain its pristine image.This is counterproductive. In choosing Wellesley we invested in it—time, money and our hopes for our futures. We want this place to be the best it can be. If a group of students is moved to protest, such protests are ultimately in Wellesley’s best interest. Yes, protest might make the school look worse in the short term, but in the long term it ensures that our community doesn’t just look better, but that it actually becomes the best version of itself.