This afternoon, Provost Joyce Jacobsen, Vice-President Antonio Farias and I sent the following message to the student newspaper The Argus. Along with other faculty and staff, I am happy to discuss these issues with members of the campus community in the coming days and weeks.
Many students turned out for a powerful panel discussion on the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement earlier this week. The panelists underscored issues of structural racism in general and police brutality in particular. Earlier in the week The Argus published an op-ed that questioned whether “the [BLM] movement itself [is] actually achieving anything positive? Does it have the potential for positive change?” Many students took strong exception to the article; it was meant to be a provocative piece. Some students not only have expressed their disagreement with the op-ed but have demanded apologies, a retraction and have even harassed the author and the newspaper’s editors. Some are claiming that the op-ed was less speech than action: it caused harm and made people of color feel unsafe.
Debates can raise intense emotions, but that doesn’t mean that we should demand ideological conformity because people are made uncomfortable. As members of a university community, we always have the right to respond with our own opinions, but there is no right not to be offended. We certainly have no right to harass people because we don’t like their views. Censorship diminishes true diversity of thinking; vigorous debate enlivens and instructs.
In the long run, Wesleyan will be a much more caring and inspiring community when we can tolerate strong disagreements. Through our differences we can learn from one another.
Michael Roth, President
Joyce Jacobsen, Provost
Antonio Farias, Vice-President for Equity and Inclusion
*9/20/15: Edited to reflect that the piece in The Argus was an op-ed, not a Wespeak.