I recently wrote how Antifa and other college protesters are increasingly denouncing free speech and the foundations for liberal democracies. That troubling trend was evident last week with a protest at William & Mary College in Virginia when protesters from Black Lives Matter stopped a discussion with Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia. Protesters screamed “Liberalism is white supremacy!” the protesters shouted, and “ACLU, you protect Hitler too!” It was an all-too-common sight and universities have done little to address students who believe that they have a right to prevent others from hearing opposing views.
The protesters livestreamed the demonstration on Facebook as they chanted “The oppressed are not impressed!,” “Blood on your hands!,” and “The revolution will not uphold the Constitution!”
Gastañaga was left sidelined as protesters refused to let her speak. She was there to discuss free speech and can be heard initially saying that this is the issue that brought her to campus and “Good, I like this.” She added “I’m going to talk to you about knowing your rights, and protests and demonstrations, which this illustrates very well. Then I’m going to respond to questions from the moderators, and then questions from the audience.”
The BLM protesters denounced free speech as a tool of oppression. One organizer declared:
“When is the free speech of the oppressed protected? We know from personal experience that rights granted to wealthy, white, cis, male, straight bodies do not trickle down to marginalized groups. We face greater barriers and consequences for speaking.”
What also concerns me is that fact that these students claimed the right to prevent other students from participating in classes or events — a similar complaint raised against the recent protests against James Comey at Howard University. The students interrupted a lecture and were reportedly screaming at other students who actually wanted to learn. I have taken a harsh line on such disruptions of classrooms like a recent incident at Northwestern University. This violates a core defining values of our academic institutions and such students should be suspended for such conduct. There is a difference between voicing your views and preventing others from speaking, particularly inside of a classroom. When you claim the right to prevent others from hearing opposing views or speakers, you are at odds with the academic mission of these universities.
William & Mary should suspend students who prevent classes or public events. Period. Either students come to a school to be exposed to different views and to express their views, or they have no place in an institution of higher learning.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that the protesters are easily identifiable on tape, William & Mary College President Taylor Reveley issued a statement that said nothing of disciplining, let alone suspending, the students:
“This stifles debate and prevents those who’ve come to hear a speaker, our students in particular, from asking questions, often hard questions, and from engaging in debate where the strength of ideas, not the power of shouting, is the currency. William & Mary must be a campus that welcomes difficult conversations, honest debate and civil dialogue.”
That is the right sentiment but the question is whether Reveley is prepared to protect those values with concrete action.