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‘Liberalism is white supremacy’: Black Lives Matter protesters shut down ACLU free speech event


They won’t even let students talk to speaker after cancellation

If you had any doubt that left-wing groups that nominally defend free speech would become targets of illiberal campus protesters, look at what happened last week at the College of William & Mary.

Black Lives Matter protesters crashed the stage of an event titled “Students and the First Amendment” less than five minutes after the entrance of Virginia Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU’s Virginia affiliate and an alumna, The Flat Hat reports.

They not only chanted to prevent her from speaking, but they were offered the microphone to read from their statement, and then they drowned out students who tried to speak to Gastañaga after the aborted event.

The ACLU drew nationwide criticism following its defense of the constitutional right of white nationalists to hold a rally against the removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville:

Signs in hand, the protesters shouted chants such as “liberalism is white supremacy” and “the revolution will not uphold the constitution.”

Twenty minutes into the protest, [student-run Alma Mater Productions] Director of Internal Affairs Hasini Bandara ’18 approached the group with a microphone and gave members an opportunity to read their prepared statement.

In the statement, BLM criticized the ACLU’s approach to white supremacy in regard to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, suggesting that the organization provides an unnecessary platform for white supremacists.

The statement said “marginalized groups” do not have the same speech rights as “wealthy, white, cis, male, straight bodies,” which justified the protesters’ takeover of the event.

The protesters returned to chanting after passing back the microphone, and 30 minutes in, the student organizers made the “collective decision” to cancel the event, Director Miguel Dayan said. They have no plans to reschedule the event, planned five months ago, he said.

Protesters didn’t stop there:

After the cancellation was announced, remaining students clustered around Gastañaga, hoping to ask questions and voice concerns. These students dispersed, however, when the protesters began circling around them, drowning out Gastañaga and chanting with increased volume.

In a statement given to The Flat Hat, President Taylor Reveley said the activists’ stunt was “not acceptable in our community” and prevented students “from asking questions, often hard questions, and from engaging in debate where the strength of ideas, not the power of shouting, is the currency.”

The public college, which boasts of its “Public Ivy” status, did not post the statement on social media. It has yet to announce any investigation into the protest or discipline of protesters for disrupting another student group’s event.

Though the protesting students didn’t identify their affiliation, The Flat Hat notes the college’s Black Lives Matter chapter “took credit on its Facebook page through a livestream of the event” and bragged that it “shut down an event” because of its “zero tolerance for white supremacy no matter what form it decides to masquerade in.”

William and Mary highlighted the new director of its Center for Student Diversity, whose title also includes assistant dean, the same day as the protest that shut down the event.

The college currently has a “green light” rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, meaning its policies “nominally protect free speech,” though it maintains an overbroad harassment policy that earns a yellow-light rating for limited restriction of protected speech or “vague wording.” FIRE last reviewed the college’s ratings Sept. 1. Sustained heckling or interruption of others’ events is not considered protected speech.

“Since this incident, we have been reviewing our own planning and protocols,” Brian Whitson, chief communications officer, told The College Fix in an email Wednesday.

The college cannot consider any sanctions against the Black Lives Matter chapter because it’s not a recognized student organization, “and students who are part of the BLM group have not pursued that designation,” he said.

Whitson declined to answer whether the college has opened an investigation that could lead to disciplinary action against participants, providing a disputed interpretation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

“College practice, consistent with the Family Education [sic] Rights and Privacy Act, is that we don’t comment on campus disciplinary matters, including whether or not the university is considering sanctions or discipline involving students,” he wrote, reiterating Reveley’s statement that “silencing certain voices in order to advance the cause of others is not acceptable in our community.

Robby Soave summarized the event from the livestream in Reason, concluding:

Absent a promise to identify the perpetrators and make sure this never happens again, the college’s statement is meaningless. If officials are just going to stand by while students make it impossible to even have a conversation about free speech on campus, the matter is already settled: there is no free speech at William & Mary.

Read The Flat Hat and Reason coverage.

UPDATE: A college spokesperson responded to Fix questions late Wednesday. The responses have been added.

IMAGE: MicroOne/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg Piper served as associate editor of The College Fix from 2014 to 2021.