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Student suggestions to improve free speech climate at Williams

In our webinar last week, we asked our student panelists what the college could do to signal institutional support for free speech.  Each offered suggestions, which, if implemented, we believe would confirm Williams College’s commitment to free speech.

Broadly speaking, the students’ suggestions are consistent with our support of the Chicago Statement on free expression and the Kalven Report on institutional neutrality.  Satya Benson ‘26 wants a “clear institutional policy,” indicating that the college supports free speech, a view that parallels Niko Malthotra’s endorsement of Chicago. Matt Seltzer ‘24 believes “institutional neutrality… would signal to students that a major value of Williams is free speech.” 

But more than just support a broad commitment to free speech and institutional neutrality, each student also put forward a specific proposal.


During First Days, the orientation when students arrive for their first year in the Purple Valley, they, Satya Benson ’26 noted, are instructed on how “to relate to each other and treat each other” in the college environment.  He held that that’s “a perfect spot to talk about free speech and accepting other people’s opinions.” 

Noting that faculty put DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) statements into their syllabi, Matt Seltzer ’24 suggested they “also put in statements about valuing free speech.”  He believes this would make students more comfortable and less hesitant to voice their own opinions.


Niko Malhotra ‘24 believes the college needs to adopt a more consistent attitude: “Free speech regardless of what happens.” He added that the college “should step in” and that there should be “consequences” if someone shouted down a speaker.


We believe the students’ three additional suggestions, which we repeat below,  would communicate the ideals of Chicago and Kalven in a very real way to the Williams community:


  1. Incorporate support of free speech into First Days (first year orientation)

  2. Faculty to include support for free speech in course syllabi

  3. Consistent attitude toward free speech with consequences for disrupting speakers

We encourage the college to consider all three.


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