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President Mandel's Response to Disruption of Mideast Panel Sets Right Tone

Last night, Thursday, April 25, 2024, students disrupted the last of three programs on the War in Gaza and the International Context.  President Maud S. Mandel, who was present, reacted swiftly and appropriately.  Please read the full text of her letter to the campus which we include below.

We are pleased to see her robust defense of free speech.  Significantly, she calls the “heckler’s veto” a “serious transgression” that “strikes at the heart of the academic project”.

We agree.

Kudos to President Mandel for a strong letter.

Let us hope the disciplinary process leads to such punishment that will deter future disruptions.

President Mandel’s letter:

Date: Fri, Apr 26, 2024 at 8:40 AM

Subject: Regarding last night's disruptive incident

Dear Williams community,

Yesterday, the College hosted the final program in a three-part series on the war in Gaza and the international context. Toward the end of the evening, students shouted down the speakers with loud chanting, only departing after several minutes of disruption. A few minutes later, two other students forced the event to end by continuing their loud chanting, making it impossible for the speakers to address the final questions and make closing remarks. Following warnings and suggestions that the two activists move their protests outside the building, organizers were forced to close the event.

Williams College has clear policies regarding protest, the boundaries of which are notably wide to allow for the open exchange of ideas and the expression of dissent. Those interested in questioning the assumptions or perspectives of a speaker are invited to do so. Throughout this lecture series, many attendees participated by listening to our invited speakers and respectfully asking questions, even when they disagreed with the content. Members of our community are also invited to host their own events, showcasing alternative views. Shouting down speakers is, however, a direct violation of one of the tenets we hold most dear–the ability to learn, question, and critically engage with each other openly. This serious transgression, the “heckler’s veto,” strikes at the heart of the academic project; it is, therefore, a significant violation of our principles. 

I deeply regret that students opted to engage in disruptive behavior last night, and the matter will be referred to the College’s standard disciplinary process.

Our protest policies are intended to promote free expression and debate while preventing harassment, ensuring everyone’s safety, and allowing for the continued functioning of the College. I ask everyone in our community to respect these guidelines even as we voice our deepest convictions. 




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