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Suzanne Venker disinvited from “Uncomfortable Learning”

Just weeks after EphBlog discussed the activities of the “Uncomfortable Learning” organization at Williams College, the group is in the headlines — and not in a good way. Suzanne Venker has an opinion piece posted online titled: “Williams College dropped me from its ‘Uncomfortable Learning’ speaker series. Why?” In it, she writes:

For the past two months, I’ve been preparing a speech for my upcoming visit to Williams College in Massachusetts. I was invited to speak at the university on behalf of its ‘Uncomfortable Learning’ Speaker Series…

[M]y talk was cancelled several days prior to the event. “Thank you for agreeing to speak,” read the email, “but we’re not going to be able to host this event.”

Though my contact didn’t give a reason, the day before he’d sent me this email: “Dear Ms. Venker, A quick heads up…We’ve been advertising the event, and it’s already stirring a lot of angry reactions among students on campus. We just wanted to make you aware of the current state of students before your presentation…”

When I pressed further as to why the event was being cancelled (though of course I knew why), he conceded that Williams College “has never experienced this kind of resistance” to a campus speaker.

Venker is the author of “The Flipside of Feminism” and “How to Choose a Husband and Make Peace With Marriage,” and is an iconoclast critic of modern feminism. According to her article, she planned to share her critique of feminism, framing it around the idea of uncomfortable subjects, as appropriate for the series:

My goal for you all, my purpose in being here today, is to inspire you to think for yourselves. Do not be swayed by groupthink no matter what your friends, your family or the culture believe. Do not be afraid to ask yourself questions that may make you uncomfortable. And do not be afraid of the answers…

Imagine the possibilities if students at Williams College and elsewhere were exposed to a completely different worldview. Something positive. Something uplifting. Something, dare I say it, empowering?

We can hope that there’s another side to the story of the cancellation of Venker’s scheduled speech, but at a time when the toxic atmosphere for intellectual disagreement on college campuses has drawn widespread attention — with even President Obama weighing in to encourage universities to host more ideological diversity — this disinvitation is not reflecting well on Williams.

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#1 Comment By frank uible On October 21, 2015 @ 9:22 am

Experience tells that partisans tend not to seek information or reason or justice or wisdom but simply bald advantage.

#2 Comment By James On October 21, 2015 @ 10:09 am

@Frank. But it doesn’t seem like anyone gains from this except this Venker woman who can use it to push her agenda and gain publicity.

#3 Comment By ephalum On October 21, 2015 @ 10:29 am

It doesn’t reflect well on Williams, but that is as much — or more — the fault, it seems, of the organizers as of any who protested her. The college itself had no role in scheduling, or cancelling, her appearance, and expressly refused to condemn her appearance on campus. And while people had every right to protest her message, and were planning on doing so, it did not seem that there was widespread agitation for her engagement to actually be cancelled. She is a speaker who attacks in a somewhat puerile fashion those who have a different perspective, so it’s perfectly understandable and indeed appropriate for the targets of her vitriol to respond via a counter-demonstration. It’s a shame that the organizers didn’t stick by their guns and go forward with this event. Because now the implication by this speaker is that Williams is somehow censoring speech, when it certainly did not, and this only serves her agenda further via a false narrative of what actually seems to have transpired.


#4 Comment By ephalum On October 21, 2015 @ 10:31 am

And lest anyone want to claim that Williams censors right-wing presentations or student activism on campus (I most certainly hope it does not and I’ve seen no indication that it does), I give you this photo from just a few days ago as evidence to the contrary:


#5 Comment By Edward W. Morley ’60 On October 21, 2015 @ 3:38 pm

Ephalum – thanks for the links. And it is a shame that the students’ disinvitation will reflect on the atmosphere at the College as a whole, especially when these are precisely the students who, as David recounts, have done so much to help bring viewpoint diversity to campus.