Wesleyan Administration: Black Lives Matter and So Does Free Speech

Short and sweet:

“Debates can raise intense emotions, but that doesn’t mean that we should demand ideological conformity because people are made uncomfortable. As members of a university community, we always have the right to respond with our own opinions, but there is no right not to be offended. We certainly have no right to harass people because we don’t like their views.”

Source: The Wesleyan Argus | Black Lives Matter and So Does Free Speech

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Author: David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.

4 thoughts on “Wesleyan Administration: Black Lives Matter and So Does Free Speech”

  1. Note: general “you” not David “you” in use in the following sentences.

    If you write “Black lives matter but…” or “black lives matter and so does…” then you are demonstrating conclusively that 1) you don’t get it, and 2) you’re part of the problem.

    Saying “Rainforests matter” isn’t saying “F*** all other forests!!!!” or even “…and oceans don’t”. And if you think either of those are a reasonable way of parsing that sentence, then the problem is entirely, completely, and utterly yours.

    1. Shannon, I must confess, I lifted the headline from an article in the Wesleyan Argus authored by Wesleyan President Michael Roth, Provost Joyce Jacobsen, and Vice President Antonio Farias. They, and I, were responding to the following situation:

      “Earlier in the week The Argus published an op-ed that questioned whether ‘the [BLM] movement itself [is] actually achieving anything positive? Does it have the potential for positive change?'”

      I am sure you would agree that this is a legitimate question: if you accept the fundamental proposition that the lives of African-Americans undervalued, if that fact truly bothered you, and if you were frustrated that the movement designed to change the situation was not making headway, it seems to me that you are morally obliged to question the efficacy of the movement, or to thoughtfully examine the question when posed. What is more, you would have every right to expect the brilliant young men and women at Wesleyan, versed as they are in critical thinking, to agree.

      Apparently not:

      Many students took strong exception to the article; it was meant to be a provocative piece. Some students not only have expressed their disagreement with the op-ed but have demanded apologies, a retraction and have even harassed the author and the newspaper’s editors. Some are claiming that the op-ed was less speech than action: it caused harm and made people of color feel unsafe.”

      Here is the point that the Wesleyan Leadership and I are trying to make: if you care about fixing problems in this country, you cannot muzzle everyone except the people who are riding on your particular repair truck. You need to be prepared to hear hard truths like “this cause that you care about and have put passion and emotion into is not fixing the problem.”

      Does it hurt to hear things like that? Of course. Truths hurt. The solution the Wesleyan students chose was not to engage in contemplation or debate, and heaven forbid seek a more effective path. It was, rather, to impugn, to harass, and to vilify the questioner.

      The students who do not understand that the pathway to solving the problem of residual racism in America lies in free and open debate and discussion are the ones who “don’t get it” and “are part of the problem.” Heaven help us if these young people carry beyond the university the implicit view that problems are best solved by crafting feel-good campaigns and silencing not only the opposition, but legitimate questioners. I doubt that either one of us would be happy living in a country governed by people with such beliefs. It reeks more than a bit of a large Asian nation with which we are both acquainted.

      So let me rephrase. Black lives matter. But theirs – and ours – are not worth a damn if we lack the single most important means to ensure that it is so: the freedom of speech and expression, even when that expression is frustrating, hurtful, and even offensive.

  2. Your last paragraph is excellent, and I agree entirely. I’m not sure the lead up to it is flawless — one of the things the BLM movement has been explicit about is that expression doesn’t have to be “efficient” or “accepted” to be valid — but I agree with the premise.

    Thanks for posting more than just the soundbite.

    As I often say, your responses almost always should be your initial post! 🙂

  3. One of the reasons that I value your voice on this forum so much, Shannon, is that despite our often disparate takes on issues, your challenges often bring out more complete thinking on my part. If I ever get around to actually writing “The Bull Moose Manifesto,” your name will be high in the acknowledgements.

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