Wellesley College – April 14, 2017

Student newspaper editor says some campus speech should not be protected

Wellesley, MA

On April 12, 2017, The Wellesley News, a student-run newspaper, published an editorial arguing that speech that “undermines the existence and rights of others” should not be protected by the principle of Free Speech. The editorial drew national attention and the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic tweeted that it was “one of the more frightening editorials I’ve ever read.”

Key Players

Sharvari Johari (Wellesley Class of 2017) was the co-editor-in-chief of The News. She defended the editorial arguing that it was a response to internal incidents on campus that she declined to detail. “We don’t want our community to be a place where hate speech goes unchecked,” she told The Boston Globe.

Further Details

The editorial board of The News, a student-run newspaper, published an editorial urging students to stand up to hate speech on campus. The piece claimed that hateful speech does not deserve protection under the mantle of Free Speech. “Shutting down rhetoric that undermines the existence and rights of others is not a violation of free speech; it is hate speech,” it read. “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.”

Conservative online publications, most notably the Daily Caller, drew national attention to the editorial, which stated that “hostility may be warranted” against those who utter hate speech. The Daily Caller interpreted the piece as an endorsement of violence against those who refuse to adhere to “progressive norms.”

Jeffrey Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, tweeted that the piece was “one of the more frightening editorials I’ve ever read.” The editorial received intense criticism on social media. Alexis Zhang, a research associate and editor at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a conservative group, wrote on Twitter, “As an alum, I couldn’t disagree more w/ @Wellesley_News. Free expression is the bedrock of higher ed and campus groupthink bad for all.”

Sharvari Johari, co-editor of The Wellesley News at the time the editorial was published, subsequently remarked that the editorial was written in response to private email communications and Facebook comments among members of the campus community, according to The Boston Globe. One month earlier, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, spoke on campus during “Censorship Awareness Week.” Kipnis is a controversial figure due to her belief that policies crafted to combat sexual assault have led to “sexual paranoia” and vulnerability among female students. Kipnis was denounced by a student group at Wellesley following her appearance. A group of professors subsequently argued that campus organizations should think more carefully about whom they invite to speak on campus.


The Wellesley News stood by its editorial

Sharvari Johari defended the editorial in comments to The Boston Globe.

External References:

Free Speech Is Not Violated At Wellesley, The Wellesley News

Wellesley College student newspaper ignites free-speech debate, The Boston Globe

Wellesley College Student Newspaper Endorses Violence Against Unpopular Speech, The Daily Caller

Jeffrey Goldberg’s Tweet

Alexis Zhang’s Tweet

Prepared by Will Haskell ‘18

August 22, 2017