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Campus Speaker Policy Discourages Students from Inviting Speakers

Updated: Feb 29

For many of us, Williams was a place where we were exposed to a great variety of ideas and perspectives, whether in the classroom, in conversations with our peers and our professors, or at lectures, debates, panel discussions, and other forums.  We believe college policies should make it easy for faculty and students, whether independently or as part of or in tandem with student clubs or academic departments to bring in speakers and otherwise  organize events

Indeed, in delineating the policy for students to bring speakers or performers to campus, Williams claims:


Freedom of expression is central to Williams’ educational mission as an inclusive residential liberal arts institution, and the college is committed to both inquiry and inclusion regarding outside speakers/performers and related events.


The college, however,  does not make it easy for students to bring speakers.  Instead of simply booking space and publicizing the event, students must first clear the event with the college by notifying the


Office of Campus Life (for OCL-advised RSOs) or the Davis Center (for DC-advised RSOs) of plans to have a speaker, performer, or event at the college.


RSO [Recognized student organization] sponsors must complete & submit a written program proposal to mrb1​@williams​.edu in the Office of Campus Life (OCL) at least 45 days in advance of the anticipated program date, and then schedule a meeting with a staff member of the Davis Center (for DC-advised RSOs) or the Office of Campus Life (for OCL-advised RSOs) to review the proposal & determine next steps, including location & logistics.

In practice, as a current student says, this means students need to meet with the Director of Student Involvement and Events, “to set up the contract.”


Said director then Googles the proposed speaker “to see if they are ‘controversial’ or could ‘present problems’”.  And once he has information about the speaker, the lecture topic, and the funding sources, he passes the request on to the Dean of the College and the Senior Associate Dean of Campus Life.

The student says, this “cumbersome” process discourages students from inviting speakers through the official college process, “Many student clubs just avoid it altogether and do not talk to [the director] and OCL about bringing speakers.”

As a result, the variety of viewpoints presented at Williams is constricted.

The cumbersome process discourages students from inviting speakers. Many student club avoid it altogether.

While the approval process is burdensome, some of the requirements are sound, including identifying sponsors in promotional materials and reminding speakers of college policies as well as coordinating with “Office of Campus Life or the Davis Center and Campus Safety Services to determine if additional security measures are necessary”.  But we’re concerned that student organizations would “be responsible for the cost of those additional security measures if the college determines that such measures are necessary”.

It should be the college’s responsibility  to ensure that Williams is a safe place where a wide spectrum of views and ideas are presented, considered, and debated. The burden should not be placed on students who host speakers to ensure campus safety if other students engage in disruptive or violent behavior.

We believe the college needs to streamline the process and to trust students –eliminate unnecessary procedures which serve to limit the variety of perspectives offered on campus–and even to curtail open debate.  Instead of requiring students to meet with a campus official, they should simply be required to file a program proposal.  The 45-day notification period should be shortened to make it easier for students to bring in speakers in a timely manner in response to world–and campus–events.

The purpose of college officials should be to facilitate the student event and not to place unnecessary burdens on students.



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