A mob kept disrupting a speaker I invited to campus. The president calls that a success.
'You’re a racist white supremacist!” a Williams College student shouted at Christina Hoff Sommers, after she finished a recent campus talk on feminism.
To their credit, a handful of students responded to Ms. Sommers’s talk with challenging questions and cogent criticisms. But insults, rants and meltdowns consumed the majority of the question-and-answer session. As president of Uncomfortable Learning, a student group that invites controversial speakers to campus, I did my best to moderate.
After one student activist shouted “f— you!” at the speaker, an administrator seemed to affirm the heckler’s veto, signaling to me with a timeout gesture that it was time to end the event. In an effort to give as many students as possible a chance to engage the speaker, I approached the administrator and negotiated another 15 minutes for questions. But the remainder of the Q&A consisted mostly of bellicose rhetoric and long-winded stories of personal trauma, many of which had little to do with the topic at hand. Ms. Sommers, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and critic of third-wave feminism, endured such “questioning” for more than an hour. As a college senior eager to engage in lively debate, I’m disappointed in students who used this event as an opportunity to taunt and disparage a speaker who made every effort to engage in good faith. Although many student activists at Williams seem hostile to conservative ideas, I believe all of my peers are capable of disagreeing without being disagreeable.
But college administrators aren’t much help. Since Ms. Sommers’s talk at Williams, my college’s president, Adam Falk, has characterized the event as a success. He wrote in the Washington Post this week that “our students listened closely, then responded with challenging questions and in some cases blunt critiques.”