Instead, the predictable cancel campaign was launched. Vassar’s campus newspaper, The Miscellany News, declared on Feb. 16 that “For many students—particularly the graduating class—the selection of Johnson as this year’s commencement speaker was perceived as a strikingly tone-deaf blow to Vassar’s integrity and community values.” It added that “students of color feel especially impacted by Johnson’s policies.”
A partner at the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York, Johnson opted out in the face of the rising anger. In a statement, he declared that he would not be able to celebrate his father and the close connection to Vassar: “In my public life I managed many difficult and contentious issues. In my private life I do not seek to be the object of controversy or speak at a commencement where students will object to me.”
This is a huge loss for Vassar not just in the cancelling of an important address (and the celebration of an incredible African American family tied to Vassar) but also for the exercise of free speech on campus. It shows the same intolerance for dissenting views that has narrowed the range of acceptable speakers across the country.