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Williams students afraid to speak out for free speech

Updated: Apr 17

Those removed from campus life today sometimes come to understand college life by what we see and read in the media.  Since an angry rabble disrupting a lecture is more newsworthy than students quietly listening to and asking thoughtful questions of a speaker, we come to believe that disruption is endemic.  And that students would rather protest those putting forward opposing views than consider their arguments.

To be sure, disruption is a problem.  According to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression’s  (FIRE) 2024 College Free Speech Rankings, 63% of students surveyed believe “disruptive tactics to stop campus speech [are]… acceptable to some degree”.  

But according to the Williams students who participated in our webinar last week, there is, as our Steering Committee member Niko Malhotra ’24 put it, a “silent majority” that wants to learn and “hear from different perspectives”.  Still, “a very, loud vocal minority…  is shaping campus discussion”.  He thought it was “great” that the college had a series of panels on the Israel-Hamas war.

That minority, however, “blasted the school for even having” such a discussion.  Indeed, last October 25, a anonymous group styling itself “Students Against Genocide” faulted The Record for “platforming for publishing a pro-Israel Op-ed.

In response, Satya Benson’ 24 penned a strong defense of free speech.  On our webinar, he said he was “expressing something that a lot of people felt, but that nobody was saying.”  Most people on campus favor free speech, but few were willing to speak out for free speech.  Indeed, a number of students came up to him “privately” to say that they supported his public defense of free speech.  Even some aligned with anti-Israel groups.

Thus the problem on campus, at least at Williams, is slightly different from how it appears in the media. Students favor free speech, but are often hesitant, if not afraid, to speak out in favor of free speech.

Let us salute those, like our panelists, with the courage to do so.

May their example embolden others to make a stand for free speech—and to debate those who would silence them.


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