Students at Trinity College voted recently to block a club purportedly dedicated to the discussion of the values and works underlying Western Civilization. The 10-member club is named after Winston Churchill as “dedicated to the preservation, dissemination and extension of the Western moral and philosophical tradition.” The group met the underlying criteria of the school but was still blocked by the student government. It is another example of intolerance shown rivaling values by many students and faculty today. To her credit, President Joanne Berger-Sweeney overruled the vote of the student government. However, that decision was met with the same unhinged, intolerant protests that we have seen on too many colleges and universities.
While the group insists that it “stand[s] firmly against racism, discrimination, and white supremacy, as well as any and all other insidious ideologies,” critics oppose its views and its association with former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka, who has a daughter at the school.
Protesters massed at the administration building after Berger-Sweeney stood with free speech in recognizing the club. Roughly a 1000 people have signed a petition to ban a club that they disagree with. Students like Shamarah Patnett posted on Facebook a call to ban the club for “promot[ing] white supremacy and has targetting [sic] marginalized students on campus.”
Some of the protesters objected to a club focusing on Western Civilization as hostile for students of color. Indeed, Trinity College Professor Johnny Eric Williams, who we previously discussed in relation to his controversial statements bout “whiteness is terrorism,” supported the protests. Stephanie Bravo, a Trinity sophomore with the group Justice 4 Marginalized Persons, insisted “We think that having a group like that is causing further … harm to marginalized students on campus.”
Rather than ban a group with which you disagree, it is also possible to organize your own events and advance your own ideas. Instead, faculty are encouraging students to focus on silencing those with whom they disagree.
We have been discussing the rising intolerance and violence on college campuses, particularly against conservative speakers. (Here and here and here and here). Berkeley has been the focus of much concern over mob rule on our campuses as violent protesters have succeeded in silencing speakers, even including a few speakers like an ACLU officials and James Comey. Both students and some faculty have maintained the position that they have a right to silence those with whom they disagree and even student newspapers have declared opposing speech to be outside of the protections of free speech. At another University of California campus, professors actually rallied around a professor who physically assaulted pro-life advocates and tore down their display. In the meantime, academics and deans have said that there is no free speech protection for offensive or “disingenuous” speech. CUNY Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek also insisted that disrupting the speech on free speech is free speech.
I recently wrote how Antifa and other college protesters are increasingly denouncing free speech and the foundations for liberal democracies. Some protesters reject classic liberalism and the belief in free speech as part of the oppression on campus. The movement threatens both academic freedom and free speech — a threat that is growing due to the failure of administrators and faculty to remain true to core academic principles.
As shown at Trinity College, students have faculty support in efforts to silence those with opposing views. It is a lesson that is antithetical to the very core of our academic mission. I knew nothing about the Churchill Club but ten students found common values in this club. If students disagree with those values, they have speech rights that are no lesser — and no greater — than their fellow students.