Campus Free Speech Is The Least Of It: What I Learned From My Visit To Bard


Suzanne Venker Author and Cultural Critic
Font Size:

In this past weekend’s Wall Street Journal, Heather MacDonald writes the following about the ongoing problem of American universities shutting down speakers whose views don’t match their own:

Campus intolerance is at root not a psychological phenomenon but an ideological one. At its center is a worldview that sees Western culture as endemically racist and sexist. The overriding goal of the educational establishment is to teach young people within the ever-growing list of official victim classifications to view themselves as existentially oppressed.

MacDonald is 100% correct—I came face-to-face with this fact just two weeks ago when I spoke at Bard College in New York.

First, a bit of background. In October 2015 I was invited by Williams College—then disinvited, and then re-invited (I declined)—to speak on behalf of its “Uncomfortable Learning” program. After the dis-invitation, Fox News published the speech I had planned to give, and from there news outlets across the country began to chime in.

Since that time, there has been continual coverage on the insanity that so-called controversial speakers are forced to endure upon agreeing to talk about Things That Are True But Should Never Be Said.

After learning about the Williams College fiasco, a student at Bard College began a similar program to the one at Williams and labeled it “Tough Talks.” Upon asking me to speak, this student assured me the invitation would not be withdrawn. “Bard students are better than that,” he wrote in an email.

And he was right. There was no dis-invitation, and there were no protests. No one was hurt, nor did anyone cause a fuss while I was speaking. It was all very civilized.

I wish that was the end of the story, but it isn’t. It can’t be. For while I commend Bard College for inviting me to speak and for being civil, that alone isn’t worthy of applause. The purpose of having a speaker is for students to learn something, and I don’t believe the students learned a thing. Not because I didn’t argue a good case—I spoke about the failures of feminism—but because of what MacDonald wrote.

The educational establishment and their impressionable lackeys view Western culture as inherently sexist. Thus, everything I said in favor of America, and in particular, of American men, fell on deaf ears.

I suspected from the moment I walked in the room this might be the case, for there were more students of color than there were white students. And feminism is a white woman’s game.

In any case, I soldiered on. What else could I do?

My overall message about gender equality was that it’s futile for one reason: it ignores biology. I even quoted the dissident feminist Camille Paglia and showed the students this video of her and Christina Sommers delivering this same message.

Yet somehow, the Q&A morphed into a discussion about race, white privilege and gender “fluidity.” And rather than redirect the students, I made a snap decision to answer their questions head on.

When I told them it’s impossible for one’s sex to be changed, that sex is not a feeling but a biological fact, there was a collective gasp in the audience. After all, it’s trendy to believe that being male or female is an arbitrary label that forces a person into a box. The students believe this so emphatically it was I who appeared off my rocker.

It was no different when the conversation moved to the trendy concept known as ‘toxic masculinity.’ This is the theory that “young men carry a demon seed within them that only feminists know how to remove,” writes Chris Beck in “Feminism In Now Toxic.”

That is the exactly what the students wanted me to accept. One young woman was matter-of-fact in her claim that parents teach their boys not to express their emotions and, as a result, masculinity becomes ‘toxic.’

After implying her argument might be better received if she were a parent herself, I told this student that boys and men tend to be stoic by nature—and that this trait has benefits since there are times when it is better not to be emotional. Fighting our nation’s wars is but one example, I said.

This was met with even greater shock. It was as though I were an alien from another planet who couldn’t understand the way things work on earth. It was the students’ job to enlighten me, in other words, rather than the other way around.

And so I find myself conflicted about my time at Bard. Yes, the silencing of speech is a huge problem on campuses today—and Bard did indeed rise above the fray. But as MacDonald adds, and as my visit to Bard proves, the silencing of speech is just a symptom of a much larger phenomenon on college campuses: a “profound distortion of reality.”

At the end of the day, then, it doesn’t matter whether speakers are silenced or not. Because American universities are so divorced from reality they can’t fathom a word of what those speakers would say.

Addendum: I want to add that at the dinner afterward, I had a lovely conversation with a select few faculty and students. They may or may not have not agreed with me—doesn’t matter—but they could engage in a reasonable dialogue. And one gal was from Middlebury, Vermont, and was wholly embarrassed about the recent goings-on there with respect to Charles Murray. And as Murray himself explained about his time at Middlebury, it’s folks like those who attend such dinners who tend to lose out in the midst of the campus craziness.