Proving a Fool

Last week, an unsigned editorial was published by the The Wellesley News regarding what the editorial referred to as, ” . . . [criticizing] the Wellesley community for becoming an environment where free speech is not allowed or is a violated right.” The following Saturday, The Wall Street Journal weighed in with a Notable & Quotable reference (subscription required) to the editorial charitably highlighting only a few of the sections. I took a more critical look at the original editorial and will let you draw the conclusions you wish. My commentary is interspersed.

Many outside sources have painted us as a bunch of hot house flowers who cannot exist in the real world. However, we fundamentally disagree with that characterization, and we disagree with the idea that free speech is infringed upon at Wellesley. Rather, our Wellesley community will not stand for hate speech, and will call it out when possible.

Really, when did you suddenly gain the wisdom to determine exactly what is “hate speech” and how to identify it consistently and fairly? In my experience, the true definition of hate speech has been somewhat similar to Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of obscenity: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [‘hard-core pornography’], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.

Shutting down rhetoric that undermines the existence and rights of others is not a violation of free speech; it is hate speech. The founding fathers put free speech in the Constitution as a way to protect the disenfranchised and to protect individual citizens from the power of the government. The spirit of free speech is to protect the suppressed, not to protect a free-for-all where anything is acceptable, no matter how hateful and damaging.

Aside from the tortured sentence construction, it is hard to know where to begin in the face of such obvious willful banality. “Shutting down rhetoric” presumes a moral superiority that, while painfully evident in this case, is clearly undeserved. After presuming the “right” to determine what speech qualifies as hate speech, the writer(s) next dare to define the intent of the writers of the U.S. Constitution. Not having been there myself, I wouldn’t begin to presume intent; however, I believe I can be reasonably certain it was not merely “protecting the suppressed” in such a warm and cuddly manner.

Students who come to Wellesley hail from a variety of diverse backgrounds. With this diversity comes previously-held biases that are in part the products of home environments.

What you call “biases”, the rest of the world calls experience. Your choice of the pejorative inference only serves to undermine the freedom from bias you apparently desire to claim.

We have all said problematic claims, the origins of which were ingrained in us by our discriminatory and biased society. Luckily, most of us have been taught by our peers and mentors at Wellesley in a productive way. It is vital that we encourage people to correct and learn from their mistakes rather than berate them for a lack of education they could not control.

What a dark and dismal world you must occupy to refer to society as “discriminatory and biased”. Your view ignores that people are responsible for their own actions and provides an unjustified excuse for the same bias you claim to decry. Your final statement concerning lack of education brings to mind visions of a white colonialist referring to the “poor uneducated natives”. Substitute “darkies” for “natives” if you have the moral courage to dare.

This being said, if people are given the resources to learn and either continue to speak hate speech or refuse to adapt their beliefs, then hostility may be warranted. If people continue to support racist politicians or pay for speakers that prop up speech that will lead to the harm of others, then it is critical to take the appropriate measures to hold them accountable for their actions. It is important to note that our preference for education over beration regards students who may have not been given the chance to learn. Rather, we are not referring to those who have already had the incentive to learn and should have taken the opportunities to do so. Paid professional lecturers and politicians are among those who should know better.

So now you have appointed yourself Judge, Jury and Executioner in the new Thought Police. Your moral smugness disregards that others may, in good conscience, disagree with your beliefs. Your condescending view that students deserve education over “beration” ignores that these students are, at the college level, adults who should be responsible for their actions. If you choose to claim they are not, you are (probably unwittingly) making a dismal accusation concerning the educational system that led them to Wellesley.

We at The Wellesley News, are not interested in any type of tone policing.

That seems to be, at best, a significant stretch of the truth. As my high-school English teacher said over 40 years ago, “More fact; less BS.”

Somewhere, some time ago a very wise man said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” That is a lesson clearly not learned by the Wellesley student(s) responsible for this editorial. Maybe that’s why they didn’t sign their names.