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Prominent free speech advocate and Williams College alum divulges new details on campus censorship

Wood wants to ‘expose the weaknesses of any leader who uses intimidation to censor’

When First Amendment advocate and Williams College alumnus Zachary Wood published in 2018 his book “Uncensored: My Life and Uncomfortable Conversations at the Intersection of Black and White America,” he included plenty of personal details about his life.

But this month he offered a few more about his experiences at his alma mater, an elite, private liberal arts college in Massachusetts. Writing for the National Association of Scholars, a nonprofit that supports intellectual diversity, he told of his personal experiences with then-president of Williams College, Adam Falk.

As an undergrad, Wood had helped lead the student club Uncomfortable Learning to invite speakers to campus that questioned the status quo, and Falk was none too pleased. Wood alleges Falk may have accessed his school email account:

I spoke to Adam face to face, in his office, in late January of 2016. He told me, “I know you’re inviting Charles Murray.” At this point, I had neither made a formal invitation to Charles nor shared with anyone my intent to bring him to Williams. I had only corresponded with Charles via email. When I asked Adam how he knew this private information, he replied, “I have ways of finding out.”

I wanted Adam to respect my agency and support my club, so I broke eye contact with him and let it go.

Wood went on to note:

No matter the circumstance — Adam told the press that he and his administration were doing a great job of increasing viewpoint diversity at Williams. In reality, Adam and his administration were failing miserably. Every time I pressed Adam’s administration with tough questions, they either deflected evasively or tried to hand-check me. By the end of my sophomore year, Adam had grown determined to blunt my effectiveness. He instructed administration officials — some of whom manage press access, others who involve campus security — to impose restrictions. I was ordered by one official to report to an administrator in his office, in the Office of Student Life before sending out any speaker invitations. In case I resisted, students were now blocked from booking space online to host large events where press would also be welcome.

In an email to The College Fix, Wood explained why he is telling this story now.

He said he chose to focus his book more on student backlash to free speech and the broader intellectual arguments at stake, but that more recently “powerful leaders have threatened and tried to intimidate and humiliate people I care about and I want to be fully involved in defending them and the values I believe in.”

“… I want to highlight why freedom of the press is personal for me, and underscore that I have a dog in the fight,” Wood said. “I am fully engaged and I am determined to win. Censorship has no place in our democracy.”

Wood said his piece in NAS aimed to highlight Falk’s “propensity to misrepresent the state of affairs.”

“Leaders who distort the truth like that tend to use intimidation to silence those who criticize them. I want to drill in the point that we should intensely oppose and resist these leaders,” Wood said.

Wood has a history of doing just that when he invited controversial speakers to Williams.

“I love ideas and I love learning,” he said. “I like people and I’m interested in people’s stories. I want to gain a deeper understanding of the world and I believe that’s an ongoing process. And so I believe deeply in the importance of being able and encouraged to explore and interrogate unsettling questions.”

“As a college student,” he added, “I did a lot of reporting and I took a lot of flak for it and I am highly motivated to use all of my intellectual resources to protect and defend the freedom of the press to question, challenge, resist, and expose the weaknesses of any leader who uses intimidation to censor.”

MORE: Book review: ‘Uncensored’ by Zachary Wood

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor-in-chief of The College Fix.