Student testifies to Senate on state of free speech (Spoiler: it is not good)

The 1st Amendment has hit a snag – on college campuses, that is. Institutions that have historically identified themselves as champions of free speech find themselves barring individuals from campus based on what they have to say. Supporters of this growing trend would identify these disinvited speakers individuals as propagators of hate speech; whereas its opponents often chalk it up to the politically correct administration.

Williams College Senior, Zach Wood, thrives within this precarious space. As the president of a group called “Uncomfortable Learning” at Williams, Zach—who self identifies as a liberal democrat, and recently testified before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary—has invited several controversial speakers who were ultimately disinvited by the college.


Zach invited a self-proclaimed cultural critic named Suzanne Venker. Venker—whose work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The Atlantic and The Economist—holds herself out as an “anti-feminist” – a stance that irked many Williams students. Wood, for inviting controversial speakers to campus shared in the Senate hearing that he has “been labeled ‘a men’s rights activist,’ ‘a sellout,��� and ‘anti-Black,’ among other things.” He’s also received more grave threats. “Once, I even received a hand-written letter, slipped under my door, that read: ‘your blood will be on the leaves,’” Wood said. Blowback like that forced Wood to cancel the speech.

These events, which were detailed in The Washington Post, Fox News, and CNN, sparked further discourse on campus; why? To ensure such a free speech fumble wouldn’t happen again. And it didn’t…for a few months: “I invited pop math author and conservative commentator John Derbyshire to speak at Williams about race and national identity. My announcement of Derbyshire’s invitation angered many students and faculty on campus precisely because Derbyshire had previously made incendiary comments about African-Americans. Within 48 hours of the event…Williams College unilaterally canceled the speaker.”

“In my time at Williams, I cannot name a single conservative speaker that has been brought to campus by the administration,” says Wood, whose testimony points to a depressed state of free speech in higher education today.

To decry opinions as ‘hate speech’ and ‘worthless’ without grappling with that viewpoint is equally damaging as tagging all efforts to respect different demographics as ‘overly politically correct,’ to Wood. Zach is on the forefront of the movement to ensure that political inclusivity is holds similar weight as social inclusivity. He seeks to put people who vehemently disagree with one another at the table together. The outcome? Who knows. But it starts with dialogue, and that’s all Wood is asking for.

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