W&M prez rebukes students who shouted down ACLU event

Noting that the protesters refused to let the event proceed even after they were given an opportunity to read their own statement, Taylor Reveley concluded that "our campus will benefit from a serious look at the First Amendment."

The President of the College of William & Mary sharply reprimanded student protesters who shut down a recent ACLU event on campus, promising “disciplinary consequences” for future disruptions.

The President of the College of William & Mary sharply reprimanded student protesters who shut down a recent ACLU event on campus, promising “disciplinary consequences” for future disruptions.

As reported by Campus Reform, Black Lives Matter at W&M successfully shut down an event hosted by William and Mary Alma Mater Productions (AMP) and the American Civil Liberties Union that was intended as “an open discussion of the rights of college students” where attendees could learn “more about what our individual rights and liberties are.”

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“Silencing certain voices in order to advance the cause of others is not acceptable in our community,” W&M President Taylor Reveley said in a preliminary statement on September 29. “This stifles debate and prevents those who’ve come to hear a speaker, our students in particular, from asking questions, often hard questions, and from engaging in debate where the strength of ideas, not the power of shouting, is the currency.”

Reveley elaborated on those sentiments in a follow-up statement on October 12, saying that “there are many viable ways for protests to occur at William & Mary,” but that “emphatically not among them...is preventing an invited speaker from making her remarks and then preventing her from engaging in informal dialogue with members of the audience.”

Indeed, while the statement acknowledges the “rich history of protests in the United States,” even noting that protests “can be instrumental in pushing our society to change in crucial ways,” it also points out that the demonstrators were given ample opportunity to communicate their message alongside the invited speakers.

“The protestors were offered the opportunity to read a statement, which they did. They were then asked to let the speaker continue,” Reveley recounted. “Again, they drowned her out. And when some students from the audience gathered around her on the stage in an effort to talk informally, the student protestors formed a circle around them and shouted them down too.”

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Reveley then went on highlight the futility of such demonstrations, pointing out that they offer little benefit to either side.

“In my view, refusing even to hear ideas with which we disagree does nothing to sharpen our own capacity to combat them in a cogent, convincing fashion. I do not believe it is an effective way to push toward needed change,” he asserted, adding that “it is very unlikely to persuade those with whom we disagree to consider the possibility that they might be mistaken.”

Moreover, Reveley reminded students that not only is William & Mary a public university that is legally required to uphold the First Amendment, but that “equally important, we uphold the First Amendment because it is so basic to the health of our university and our society.”

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With that in mind, he listed some of the policies that apply when speakers come to campus, noting that students are prohibited from “behaving in a manner that a reasonable person would find alarming or intimidating” or “engaging in conduct that infringes on the rights of others,” regardless of whether the event is educational, extracurricular, or otherwise.

“Violation of these requirements, especially if they involve denial of other people’s First Amendment rights, seriously undermines William & Mary’s welfare,” Reveley said. “Such violations have disciplinary consequences, with sanctions running up to and including suspension or dismissal from the university, depending on the scope and severity of an individual’s actions and prior disciplinary record.”

Reflecting on his 20 years with W&M, Reveley said he has “especially cherished...the civility and mutual respect with which we wage our disagreements, even when they are passionately felt,” concluding that the school will have to take special steps to ensure that this continues to be the case.

“I believe, too, our campus will benefit from a serious look at the First Amendment this academic year, including how it shapes the life of a public university,” he ended the statement. “All views about what the [First] amendment does and does not protect will be welcome, as well as thoughts about its relevance for contemporary America. There are many such views. Let’s engage them.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @asabes10