Thank you for publishing a piece on the Wellesley Freedom Project’s final year. Over its ten years of existence, the Freedom Project hosted over 75 lectures and events that represented many different points of view on topics of keen public interest — some but not all conservative. It also hosted scholars from all over the world who leant an international perspective to the topic of freedom. I’m glad that these elements of the project were mentioned, and I hope that Wellesley can use the project’s final year to celebrate the spirit of inquiry and open-mindedness, which our polarized society dearly needs.
I write to correct misimpressions regarding distinguished journalist, historian, and former Northwestern bioethics professor, Alice Dreger, whom the project invited twice. Dreger first spoke on the politicization of scientific research (an issue that has become even more pressing since), following the publication of her widely acclaimed Galileo’s Middle Finger. Dreger’s views on transgenderism were not the focus. Far from talking down to the students who exercised their own free speech rights in protest, Dreger attempted to speak with the protestors personally — to hear and respond to their concerns.
Her re-invitation was to discuss an entirely different topic, the purpose of the university, based on an article she’d written for the Chronicle of Higher Education. This time she was not the sole speaker but participated in a lively moderated conversation with law professor and literary scholar Stanley Fish. That event had nothing to do with transgender issues. As a gesture of good will to students who were offended by her work, however, she and I (as then-director) hosted an open meeting before her talk, inviting any students who wished to speak or engage with her personally. All our efforts went to promote, not interfere with respectful dialogue.
But as we bid farewell to the Freedom Project, don’t take my word. Please go to the Freedom Project’s website, where you can find recordings of almost all our events. Look not just at one controversial event but at the range of issues the project explored over its ten years. Listen to the question / answer sessions. Make your own judgments, as Wellesley teaches you to do.
I hope the Freedom Project’s final year will be a time to explore what we share and to look forward.
Bates/Hart Professor of English
Freedom Project Director (2018-20)