Wellesley student paper argues for “hate speech” limitations on free speech

October 13, 2017 • 1:00 pm

Here’s an editorial from the April 12 edition of the Wellesley College student newspaper, The Wellesley News. (The school is an expensive and high class women’s school in Massachusetts.) This editorial came to my attention from a post on the website of Jonathan Turley, a professor of constitutional law and writer at George Washington University Law School.

When you see an editorial like the one below (click on the screenshot to go there), you just know that the headline is a lie:

What always strikes me when first reading these editorials is how poor the writing is: it’s verbose and sometimes has grammatical or word errors, like “hot house flowers” (which could be misinterpreted!) instead of “hothouse flowers” in the first paragraph. I’ve highlighted a few more infelicities below. Think how much these women are paying for a Wellesley education, and they can’t even write!

But leaving that aside, what we have is Orwellian doublespeak: “We’re not violating free speech, we’re just shutting down hate speech.” To wit (emphasis is mine):

Many members of our community, including students, alumnae and faculty, have criticized the Wellesley community for becoming an environment where free speech is not allowed or is a violated right. 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.

Wellesley students are generally correct in their attempts to differentiate what is viable discourse from what is just hate speech. Wellesley is certainly not a place for racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia or any other type of discriminatory speech. Shutting down rhetoric that undermines the existence and rights of others is not a violation of free speech; it is hate speech. [JAC: Note the erroneous structure of this sentence: they are saying “shutting down rhetoric” is “hate speech”. What they mean is that shutting down rhetoric is shutting down 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.

There you have it: a double mischaracterization. First, as we know well, one person’s hate speech is another person’s constructive speech. Discussions about transgender people, the nature of feminism, and the oppressive aspects of Islamic doctrine can be fruitful, but apparently they’re going to be “shut down” at Wellesley.

Further, where did they get the idea that the purpose of the First Amendment was to “protect the disenfranchised”? It is there so that government cannot suppress free discussion by anyone, disenfranchised or not, and no matter what they say. What these editors consider “hate speech” clearly is protected by the First Amendment so they have, as usual, redefined “free speech” to suit their own ideology.

The editors give the impression that the Founding Fathers wrote that Amendment so that blacks, Hispanics, gays, and trangender people would be protected. That is not the case; if any minorities were to be protected, it was religious minorities. But the Amendment was written because its authors saw the liberty of speech as the best way to protect their nascent democracy. Yet characterizing “free speech” in this way gives the students a license to shut down any speech that is on the side of the “non-suppressed.” And that’s exactly what they want to do.

Then we have the obligatory lip service to free discourse, which goes awry because of the hauteur and arrogance of the editors. “Mistakes will happen” here means “you might by accident, or because of your background, say something ideologically impure”:

This being said, the tone surrounding the current discourse is becoming increasingly hostile. Wellesley College is an institution whose aim is to educate. 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. Wellesley forces us to both recognize and grow from these beliefs, as is the mark of a good college education. However, as students, it is important to recognize that this process does not occur without bumps along the way. It is inevitable that there will be moments in this growth process where mistakes will happen and controversial statements will be said. However, we argue that these questionable claims should be mitigated by education as opposed to personal attacks.

We have all said problematic claims, [JAC: “said” probematic claims? Which ones? ] 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.  While it is expected that these lessons will be difficult and often personal, holding difficult conversations for the sake of educating is very different from shaming on the basis of ignorance.

In other words, “We’re here to educate you!” BUT, if you don’t learn, well, there are consequences:

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 [JAC: read: Donald Trump. NO PRO-TRUMP SPEECH!] or pay for speakers that prop up speech that will lead to the harm of others [JAC: Read: any right-wing speaker], then it is critical to take the appropriate measures to hold them accountable for their actions.

I hope by “hostility” they don’t mean punching!

And this bit is incredibly arrogant:

It is important to note that our preference for education over beration [JAC: that’s a good word, but shouldn’t have been used as it’s vanishingly rare! At any rate, they’ve already engaged in 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.

Translation: “Look, we’ll give you two years to get yourself ideologically pure. After that, if you’re still making ‘problematic claims’, then HOSTILITY IS WARRANTED. If you’re on the faculty, speaking to the college, you should already have learned and HOSTILITY WILL BE WARRANTED.”

They finally lapse into the old “emotional labor” trope, which comes off as “You need to be educated, but oy, do you know what trouble it is to educate you?!”

We at The Wellesley News, [JAC: the comma doesn’t belong there] are not interested in any type of tone policing. The emotional labor required to educate people is immense and is additional weight that is put on those who are already forced to defend their human rights. There is no denying that problematic opinions need to be addressed in order to stop Wellesley from becoming a place where hate speech and casual discrimination is okay. However, as a community we need to make an effort to have this dialogue in a constructive and educational way in order to build our community up.

The editorial winds up with a call for “productive dialogue,” which of course means “dialogue that brings you around to the correct point of view—that held by the editors.”

This whole editorial reminds me of the famous statement that Mary McCarthy said when referring to Lillain Hellman’s memoirs: “Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and “‘the'”. If I were to be more charitable in my criticism, I’d say that the editorial stands out for its lack of specificity: it doesn’t define what hate speech really is. But that’s probably a deliberate omission—on top of the editors’  gross misunderstanding of why we have the First Amendment in the first place.

Were I putting out the thousands of dollars in tuition that these students pay the college, I’d be concerned about whether I was getting my money’s worth. At any rate, here, at Yale, at Harvard, at Berkeley—and at many of the “elite” American colleges—we see in embryonic form the kind of authoritarianism that will ensue if these students ever get political power. Ceiling Cat help us if they do!

79 thoughts on “Wellesley student paper argues for “hate speech” limitations on free speech

  1. “Think how much these women are paying for a Wellesley education, and they can’t even write!”

    Quelle horreur!

    Did you just assume the writer’s gender?

    1. I believe Wellesley college does not admit men.

      Well, if you *identify* as a woman they’ll let you in. You can have a penis, a beard and a hankering for prime rib but if you think you’re a girl, sign up.

      If you *identify* as a man, even if you were not born with a penis; sorry, no Wellesley for you!

  2. Mary McCarthy made that remark about Hellman in an interview on the Dick Cavett show.

    Hellman sued, but the result of the trial tarnished Hellman’s reputation, since McCarthy was successful at showing that at least some of Hellman’s words were lies.

    Their feud is the basis of the Nora Ephron’s first stage play “Imaginary Friends” (2002) which got mixed reviews.

    1. It’s one of the great lines. Subsequent revelations have shown yet more of Hellman’s dishonesty. (Yet Children’s Hour is a great play.)

  3. That whole piece is just totalitarian from start to end. Its overall tone, with the moral certainty about their own ideology and the emphasis on “education” of those who disagree (with consequences for anyone who refuses to be “educated”) is reminiscent of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

    1. Yep. It is clearly inconceivable that their own opinions and education are problematic. When you think like that, those who disagree with you can initially be dismissed as misinformed inferiors, but persistent disagreement is proof of malevolent social turpitude in need of forcible consciousness raising.

  4. A recurring problem is that the arbiters of ‘hate speech’ frequently confuse it with what might be called ‘skeptical speech’ (disbelief that Islam is what Reza Aslan says it is), or simply arrogant/presumptuous speech (“America is the greatest nation”- lots of Donald Trump speeches), or speech believing in what SJW’s call “white innocence”.

    Hate speech is hard to define precisely, but unlike Justice Potter Stewart and pornography, I’m not at all sure these folks “know it when they see it”.

    Liberalism has now fully legitimized dissing on Scientology, but won’t legitimize criticism of Islam, but the diff is that Scientology is a religion created by an white fat bastard named L. Ron Hubbard.

    There is a (very) limited case for deplatforming speakers who have directly intimidated, demeaned or harassed students at schools at which they were speaking (Milo Y for example), but these folks want to deplatform Christina Hoff Summers, for God’s sake.

    1. “Hate speech” is difficult to define because there’s a spectrum. This means it’s also easy to attack, since extreme examples are always included in the category and it’s tempting to interpret the speaker charitably. Most people have little problem with college campuses shutting down people who shout the “n” word or make juvenile verbal attacks on groups of people coming out of therapy sessions. Gross personal invectives are out of place in a learning environment.

      When I read the essay then I tried imagining what interpretation would have me nodding along in agreement. That’s what I came up with. A timid minority student raising a hand to ask a question and some boor in the back row screams out a racial slur along with jeering advice to go back where they came from. That sort of thing. Don’t do that. Or consequences — go to the princpal’s office and we’re calling your mother (or a more mature equivalent.) Okay. Fair enough.

      But then there are gray areas. Red areas with alarm bells going off are on both extremes. The idea that ALL these boundaries have been settled is unsettling.

    2. An ambiguous case is groups that promote religious-based bigotry. They are arrogant and angry, and often willfully ignorant. Are they “hate”?

      The Southern Poverty Law Center says they list anti-LGBT groups on this basis:
      “These groups are not listed on the basis of opposition to same-sex marriage or the belief that the Bible describes homosexual activity as sinful. Anti-LGBT groups engage in crude name-calling and disseminate disparaging propaganda and falsehoods about this population, such as the claim that gay men molest children at vastly higher rates than straight men.”

      There is in America both prejudice based on stupidity and ignorance, and prejudice based on malice. If you engage in lies about a certain section of the population, are you engaging in “hate”?

      White supremacists are certainly a hate group. (If they are not, then the category is meaningless.) Any group engaging in lynching is a hate group.

      But the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as a hate group the mis-named “American College of Pediatricians”.
      They are a bunch of medical doctors who oppose gay adoption, formed in opposition to the more mainstream American Academy of Pediatrics.
      They are a group peddling ignorance and bigotry, but they just don’t seem to me to be quite in the league with the KKK.

  5. Re “expensive and high class” as a description of Wellesley. Is that not an oxymoron in our culture, class and money are virtually synonymous? The old keepers of the class lines have mostly passed on and we are left only with the price of admission as a class barrier.

    Why not revert to the traditional ways of public speaking. The speaker said anything he or she chose and the audience brought rotten vegetables and fruit to throw in response. Then the speakers would self-censor themselves and there would be peace upon the land.

  6. “The editors give the impression that the Founding Fathers wrote that Amendment so that blacks, Hispanics, gays, and trangender people would be protected.”

    Indeed, it seems that people across the political spectrum use the intentions of the Founding Fathers to justify their positions. The irony is that they often imbue the FFs with views that they simply did not have. Even worse (to me), is that they blatantly assume that the intentions of the FFs (even when they are represented accurately) are what we MUST follow 250 years later. Thus, conservatives confidently state that the FFs wanted a Christian nation/theocracy (despite all evidence) and these Wellesley snowflakes assume that the 1st amendment was put in place to protect the disenfranchised. This country needs a lot less Founding Father-worship and a lot more reasoned arguments based on circumstances we find ourselves in today.

  7. I think you pretty well covered most of the problems in this but one has to wonder, who died and made them arbitrators of what is or is not free speech. Don’t you need some clue of the history before taking on the job? Back in that first U.S. congress when they were working on this issue, Madison first thought it might be better to insert whatever amendments were ratified into the text instead of listing as separate amendments. This may have been a better idea as most Americans don’t know anything about the text of the Constitution anyway and this might have assured these 10 amendments of some obscurity.

  8. “The school is an expensive and high class women’s school in Massachusetts.”

    Does it have a high admission score requirement or can anyone get in if mum and dad have deep enough pockets?

    That was a very tedious editorial to read, are they paying attention in class? I think far too many people are going to college/university.

    1. “Wellesley College’s ranking in the 2018 edition of Best Colleges is National Liberal Arts Colleges, 3.” – https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/wellesley-college-2224

      It is actually a three-way tie with Bowdoin and Swarthmore. If you don’t have at least a 1370 on your SATs, it would be a reach. http://www.collegesimply.com/colleges/massachusetts/wellesley-college/admission/
      Even if the school let parents pay to let their kids in without the academic credentials, they would struggle to do well.

  9. 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.

    I believe that something similar was traditionally said to heretics: recant or the fire. It’s all so much easier when we can agree what the Truth is, and punish deviants.

    1. It’s quite explicit isn’t it. And this goes beyond speech, since it talks about the actual beliefs. They will need to be found out won’t they? What if the only thing worse than “racists” who speak is “racists” who keep hidden? Then we must ferret them out, mustn’t we.

    2. Yes. My first thoughts were the Red Guards, but there is some of the fake, superficial friendliness of the Inquisitor too.

  10. There is a group called the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. I am not sure of their political orientation, but they claim to be working for excellence in higher education. They issued a report with this conclusion.

    U.S. History is not a staple course for history majors at most top universities, according to a new report from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA).

    ACTA found that less than one third of U.S. News & World Report’s top 25 liberal arts colleges, top 25 national universities, and top 25 public institutions require U.S. history as a requirement for history majors.
    Many institutions instead specify that history majors must take classes in areas outside of the United States. History majors at Williams College have the option of taking “Soccer and History in Latin America: Make the Beautiful Game” and students at Swarthmore may enroll in “Modern Addiction: Cigarette Smoking in the 20th Century” in order to fulfill history major requirements.

    According to the study, of the 23 programs that do list a requirement for US history, 11 allow courses that are narrow in scope.
    “Hip-Hop, Politics, and Youth Culture in America” and “Mad Men and Man Women” are classes that fulfill the American history requirement at University of Connecticut and Middlebury College, respectively, instead of courses that cover subjects such as the Revolutionary War or the Emancipation Proclamation.

    “Historical illiteracy is the inevitable consequence of lax college requirements, and that ignorance leads to civic disempowerment,” said Michael Poliakoff, ACTA’s president-elect. “A democratic republic cannot thrive without well-informed citizens and leaders. Elite colleges and universities in particular let the nation down when the examples they set devalue the study of United States history.”

    While a lack of U.S. history in a history major’s curriculum may produce graduates without a well-rounded history education, the study also shows that general college graduates also have a poor knowledge of American history and civic processes.
    According to ACTA’s “A Crisis in Civic Education” study released January of this year, less than 20 percent of surveyed students could accurately identify in a multiple choice survey what the effect of the Emancipation Proclamation was, and one-third of college graduates were unaware that FDR introduced the New Deal.

    “Too many colleges and universities confuse community service and student activism with civic education,” the study says.
    Similarly, a 2014 CBS/New York Times survey found only 16 percent of Millennials could accurately define socialism while 30 percent of Americans over 30 and 56 percent of Tea Partiers could define it, suggesting today’s “civics recession”, as ACTA calls it, has only gotten worse over time.

    ACTA postulates that it’s possible undergraduate departments are hesitant to teach American history and government classes for fear of appearing to endorse “American exceptionalism,” or because of a “naive belief” that American students have even a rudimentary knowledge of American history.

    “Those who do not know the history of the nation, are, of course, much more likely to view its constitutional freedoms with nonchalance.”



    The complete report can be found here:


    Should it be any surprise that the ridiculously ignorant remarks about the Founding Fathers should exist when students are not required to learn American history? With the emphasis now on STEM courses and for those in the humanities to learn the details of intersectional feminism, democracy is placed in jeopardy. The basis of understanding the history of any nation is political history. Unfortunately, those courses seem to be disappearing from American higher education and we are seeing the fruits of this most distressing trend.

    1. Interesting information for sure. We really need look no further than the person we call president to see how far away we have come. A person with less respect or understanding of the first amendment we do not have anywhere or in any school. He is the result of the condition we live in and by any name is still ignorance.

    2. As a straight up Berner, this really bothers me. I can understand the need to grow more globally in our knowledge of hostory, but I can’t understand why our history should be the price.

  11. “appropriate measures to hold them accountable for their actions.”

    By actions they mean speech. They mean thought (“refus[ing] to adapt their beliefs”) so presumably the Inquisition is coming to probe them. They also mean votes (supporting “racist” politicians) and so presumably the secret ballot will be on the chopping block soon.

  12. <blockquote"When you see an editorial like the one below … you just know that the headline is a lie"

    Coyne’s First Law of Heds?

  13. The “protect the disenfranchised” aspect of the First Amendment is a serendipity: It is almost always the case that the disenfranchised are the first to suffer speech suppression in a regime where it is tolerated.

    The only thing that stops a bad guy with disenfranchisement on the mind is a good guy with the power of free speech.

  14. … if any minorities were to be protected, it was religious minorities.

    That was the purpose of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise clause. (Personally, I think the free exercise of religion should be construed as subsumed by a broader “right of conscience” component to the Free Speech clause, but we’re not quite there, yet.)

    1. I would also say the fact that they were creating a republic, not a democracy was built around the idea of protecting the minority, who ever it is. A pure democracy cares nothing for minority rights.

  15. Could someone please explain how Wellesley College could possibly violate the free speech clause as a *private* institution?


    1. I didn’t say they violated the First Amendment; I claimed that they don’t understand the concept of free speech. And even private universities should, I think, adhere to the same standards as public universities do.

      1. If private universities decide to not let someone speak what recourse is there besides people getting upset and complaining about it on social media?

    2. The principle of free speech is not identical with the First Amendment. Your right of free speech is being infringed when anybody prevents you from being heard by people who want to hear you. The first amendment just gives you a legal remedy when the government does it.

      1. That’s the nuance I’ve been looking for for ages. I could never quite put it into words, so thank you for this. I am always somewhat annoyed by the argument you often see in freespeech debates, that the first amendment is only about the government not infringing on free speech. Now I have a rebuttal.

      2. If I take a bullhorn into a restaurant and start spouting off at the mouth and one couple in the corner wants me to continue, is the manager infringing on my free speech if they kick me out? In principle should restaurants allow uninvited people with bullhorns to lecture their patrons? Surely there is a line somewhere that private entities don’t have to accommodate speakers they don’t want.

      3. “The first amendment just gives you a legal remedy when the government does it.”

        I don’t agree. Citizens United, a student’s right to wear a certain t-shirt, cross-burning, draft-card burning–all were considered free speech cases. It’s usually NOT about the Government suppressing free speech, rather about the courts determining if a grievance filed meets the criteria of speech that may not be suppressed. See this list of cases:


  16. The Wellesley kids’ writing here is so stilted and imprecise, it’s as though Orwell had rewritten Federalist No. 10 to demonstrate piss-poor bureaucratic prose.

    When they say “productive dialogue,” I think they mean it in the same sense as “productive cough” — i.e., full of phlegm.

  17. With reference to grammar and style, doesn’t the sentence

    ” Students who come to Wellesley hail from a variety of diverse backgrounds.”

    include a redundancy? Or is that being pedantic?

        1. A pleonasm describes a property that is already included, like a round circle. And yes, it is by definition redundant.

    1. Well spotted!

      But I don’t think it’s redundancy, so much as a sign that (in their usage) the meaning of “diverse” has shifted. It’s almost a synonym for “of color”, and thus doesn’t set off any remaining grammatical alarm bells.

      This double meaning is part of one of those motte and bailey tricks that are so useful for helping your ideological flock to feel secure in their faith.

  18. The only thing that can stop a bad guy using hate speech is a good guy using free speech to promote a better idea. Defining whatever you disagree with as hate speech and trying to suppress it just gives credibility to the ideas you disagree with because you’ve not come up with a counter-argument and are presumed to be unable to do so.

  19. What always strikes me when first reading these editorials is how poor the writing is….

    I didn’t make it through the first paragraph before the old copy editor in me instinctively reached for a red pen.

    As for content, it’s rife with gross errors. The putative intent behind the First Amendment, for example, is preposterous.

    And this is from the editorial staff of the school newspaper! Ah well, I’m sure HuffyPoo would hire them.

  20. I’m conflicted about ‘hate speech’. Good manners and sensitivity should be usual but it’s quite possible for someone to say something with no malicious intent but still cause offence.

    So what we are *really* talking about is ‘hate hearing’. If someone is primed to hear hateful language they will hear it whether it was spoken with malicious intent or not, or whether ‘hate’ is a reasonable inference or not.

  21. —how poor the writing is: it’s verbose and sometimes has grammatical or word errors—

    This reminds me of the mother who stumbled upon her 15-year young daughter’s intimate diary: .. last night I lost my virginity…
    She called the girl upstairs at once.
    “What does this mean, for heaven’s sake?
    “But mother, listen…”
    “Not interested in your explanation. I have taken a fulltime job, your father works extra hours every week, we make all kinds of sacrifice to give you the best education we can afford, and now look how you write ‘night’!
    “What’s wrong, Ma?
    “Don’t you see that you left out the ‘k’ ?

  22. Shutting down rhetoric that undermines the existence and rights of others is not a violation of free speech; it is hate speech

    So if we shut down your rhetoric because it undermines the rights of conservatives, you’re okay with that, right? Nah, didn’t think so.

    The emotional labor required to educate people is immense and is additional weight that is put on those who are already forced to defend their human rights.

    And obviously we can’t have a liberal arts university like Wellesly spending emotional labor to educate people! What do you think this is, a University or something?

  23. “We only want to shut down hate speech. And remember, folks, hate speech is whatever we decide it to be, as the arbiters of morality (and despite our ever-shifting ideas, literally from day to day, of what is no longer acceptable to say or even discuss). Oh, and hate speech is also discussing ideas we don’t like, such as policy positions with which we disagree, philosophical ideas we don’t want you to talk about, and anything that doesn’t conform with out ever-narrowing boundaries of acceptability.”

    These idiots really are verbose. I just wrote their whole statement in three sentences!

  24. ” The emotional labor required to educate people is immense and is additional weight that is put on those who are already forced to defend their human rights.”

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen in live conversations, Tweets, and comments sections the response when someone asks for evidence of a regressives claims, “I’m not going to enact the emotional labor to teach you. Educate yourself!” It’s just a dodge used by people who don’t have anything but their own indignation to back up their arguments.

  25. Just look at this first page of Google search, with link after link about various schools where regressives demand payment and/or time off for having to enact “emotional labor” because they’re just so drained from trying to educate everyone around them about how great their views are and how awful all the people around them are.

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