Anti-feminist author disinvited to speak at Williams College because it could be 'harmful'

A student group at Williams College invited Suzanne Venker, a conservative author and critic of feminism, to speak Tuesday night, but then rescinded the offer due to serious opposition from other students who may have found her speech offensive.

Venker was invited to participate in a student-run, alumni-funded speaker series called “Uncomfortable Learning.” The program’s mission is to introduce students to controversial voices and differing opinions they might not have been exposed to at a liberal arts college. Her talk was called “One Step Forward, Ten Steps Back: Why Feminism Fails.”

The students who run the series decided to cancel the event after other students began posting harsh comments in the Facebook event page. The page has since been deleted, but Zach Wood, co-president of the group, saved one comment from it.

“When you bring a misogynistic, white supremacist men’s rights activist to campus in the name of ‘dialogue’ and ‘the other side,’ you are not only causing actual mental, social, psychological and physical harm to students, but you are also — paying — for the continued dispersal of violent ideologies that kill our black and brown (trans) femme sisters … you are dipping your hands in their blood, Zach Wood,” the comment stated.

After canceling the event, Wood published a post on the Williams Alternative blog expressing his frustration with the “motivated ignorance” of the students who protested the event.

“At Williams, learning (theoretically anyway) begins with confronting challenging ideas,” he wrote. “Tens of millions of Americans espouse Venker’s views. I am, in fact, of the opinion that her arguments deserve trenchant criticism, but to challenge her intellectually and critique her arguments substantively, we must first understand her views.”

Venker, author of books including The War on Men and The Flipside of Feminism, penned an op-ed on Fox News lamenting the group’s decision to cancel her speech:

Even the student newspaper, The Williams Record, published an editorial that said Venker should not have come to campus despite her First Amendment right of freedom of speech because it might make people uncomfortable:

The Williams administration was quick to distance themselves from the student group’s actions.

“The Williams College administration was not involved in the planning or canceling of the event,” they said in a statement. “In recent years, Williams has hosted many speakers who are controversial. We do not shy away from controversial speakers and what they may bring to the education of our students. We value open dialogue and embrace free expression of a diversity of ideas and opinions.”

Mary Dettloff, spokeswoman for the college, told Campus Reform that the group of students who organize Uncomfortable Learning events is “not an official campus group” and the university “expressed no opinion on her appearance.”

“Many students I have talked to in the last few days are evenly split about this, with some feeling the cancellation was the right thing to do and some thinking it was the wrong thing to do because they were interested in hearing what she had to say and wanted to participate in debating her views,” she said.

This incident comes one month after President Barack Obama made comments that college students should not be “coddled” from opposing viewpoints on their campus.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @kylejplantz