Learning Through Dissent – Annika Guy, Emily O’Brien, Gerardo Pelayo Garcia, and Sam Alterman

CW: Transmisogyny, Antifeminism

Before we begin, it is necessary to clarify what our intentions were at the beginning of this controversy, which has since been heavily misconstrued by the press. We will then give our reasons for objecting to Suzanne Venker’s visit to Williams College through the group Uncomfortable Learning.

Our intention was never to silence, censor, interrupt or intimidate Venker or the leaders of UL in any way. The supposed risks of violence, chaos and interruption were all conclusions that the leaders of UL arrived at without evidence or consultation with the protest organizers. Moreover, the expected audience for this event would have been composed largely of the protesters who disagreed with Venker’s views on feminism—protesters who had taken the time to locate, read and contemplate her previous work about how feminism (supposedly) fails. These protesters were not burying their heads in the sand, avoiding uncomfortable views or otherwise trying to cancel the event in any way; in fact, it was the intellectual value of Venker’s views, not her right to speak at our campus, that was being brought into question.

So what were our intentions? To put it quite simply, we wanted nothing more than a peaceful protest. The protest was scheduled to begin well before Venker’s talk, to create a space in which students would share their thoughts and opinions and create signs to visibly (but silently) voice our dissent among the audience. We planned to hold our criticism until the scheduled Q&A, as we were encouraged to do by Zach Wood, one of the leaders of Uncomfortable Learning. During that time, and only during that time, we would present Venker with evidentially supported criticisms of her argument. There was never a call to cancel Venker’s talk. As Emily O’Brien’s original description of the protest states, “You are definitely allowed to have your space and have your talk, but we will also be occupying space surrounding this topic.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter define a feminist as “a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.” (In case anyone feels this reference is frivolous, we are simply responding to Zach Wood’s citation of a Mr. Shawn Carter in his article.) Behind this simple definition lies an extensive literature and the entirety of our Women’s, Gender and Sexuality department at Williams, along with many of our professors who teach well beyond the WGSS department. We challenge Venker to cite a single intellectually rigorous source to defend any of her claims instead of stating opinion as fact and an absence of evidence as evidence of absence. For example, in the published version of her planned talk, she refers to an article in the Journal of Economic Literature. However, because she fails to include the authors’ names, the article title or even the year of publication, it is impossible for us to fact-check or begin to intellectually engage her argument. She also makes several extraordinary claims—the idea that feminism induces fertility problems among them—without presenting a single shred of evidence. This is not the level of academic rigor expected at Williams College.

Similarly, there is an important difference between engaging in uncomfortable but productive discourse and questioning the humanity of already marginalized groups of people. We believe that it is justifiable for people to respond emotionally to speakers who question their humanity and gender identity, especially when that questioning aligns with a societal epidemic of hatred and violence. A great deal of criticism in the media has focused solely on a specific comment a Williams student made in response to Venker speaking:

“When you bring a misogynistic, white supremacist men’s rights activist to campus in the name of ‘dialogue’ and ‘the other side,’ you are not only causing actual mental, social, psychological, and physical harm to students, but you are also—paying—for the continued dispersal of violent ideologies that kill our black and brown (trans) femme sisters. You are giving those who spout violence the money that so desperately needs to be funneled to black and brown (trans) femme communities, to people who are leading the revolution, who are surviving in the streets, who are dying in the streets. Know, you are dipping your hands in their blood, Zach Wood.”

Looking past the language, which has already been dissected ad nauseum, it is necessary to explain the structural argument being made. The commenter notes that there is a disproportionate amount of violence taken against trans communities of color. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs noted in their “2014 Report on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and HIV-Affected Hate Violence” that, of homicides victims who were members of the LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities, “Over half (55%) of homicide victims were transgender women, and half (50%) of homicide victims were transgender women of color.” The 2015 Southern Poverty Law Center report In the Crosshairs states that, “Trans women of color… are almost certainly the group most victimized by hate violence in America.” This year alone, the National LGBTQ Task Force reports, “There have been at least 23 trans women and gender nonconforming people murdered… the majority of whom were black and/or Latina.”

On October 6th, Suzanne Venker shared an article on Facebook titled “Houston transgender bathroom bill debate centers on differing definitions of ‘men’,” and in her commentary refers to trans women as “biological men.” In another Facebook post on April 28th, Suzanne Venker deadnamed Caitlyn Jenner and shared comments from Matt Walsh that say, “I know the transgender superstition has, like every other progressive myth, become a Required Belief in our society.” Additionally, in her book How to Choose a Husband, Venker states that feminists support the LGBTQ community because it fits their hope for a world “where gender is murky or skewed.” Statements supporting the idea that a trans woman’s gender identity is irrelevant, mythological or somehow skewed directly contribute to the disproportionate number of trans women of color murdered in the United States. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey, conducted in 2011 by the National LGBTQ Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, “demonstrated the devastating effects on transgender people of color of anti-transgender bias combined with structural racism.” Therefore, by funding Ms. Venker and her ideology, Uncomfortable Learning is financially backing and ideologically contributing to the epidemic of violence against trans women of color in the United States.

The argument that college students need to be exposed to anti-feminist views through speakers like Suzanne Venker ignores the very real and unavoidable misogyny present in our lives, both on campus and off it. Women are not ignorant of anti-feminism, and in fact it is impossible for us to be; even if we try to ignore it, we cannot be free from its influence or oppression as long as it continues to operate on a structural level.

Suzanne Venker, on the other hand, ardently argues the exact opposite. In her planned talk, Venker states, “I could spend these two hours telling you how great you are, or telling you to reach for the stars and to shatter glass ceilings, but why beat a dead horse? You’ve been told that same thing since the day you were born.” We would love to live in this world where society constantly tells women that women are great and that they can break glass ceilings. Instead, we live in a society wherein women are routinely dismissed, disregarded and discouraged from raising their voices or pursuing their goals. In the book, The Glass Ceiling in the 21st Century: Understanding Barriers to Gender Equality, published by the American Psychological Association, Manuela Barreto, Michelle Ryan and Michael Schmitt write, “Although women no longer face a glass ceiling in the narrowest sense of complete lack of access to leadership positions, it is clear that they still face important barriers to entry into these positions.” Additionally, a 2012 study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences titled “Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students” found that when faculty members were asked to evaluate otherwise identical male and female applications for a laboratory manager position, “Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant.” Still, Venker denies that society silences women and argues that the media is controlled by a “feminist elite” that ensures male voices are “rarely heard” on issues that affect primarily women.

The idea that it was necessary to invite Venker to the College in order to educate us about anti-feminism, transmisogyny and homophobia operates under the assumption that the College is already a safe space in which feminism is the rule and not the exception—an assumption that is false. Antifeminism manifests in a multitude of ways in spaces that we have all been exposed to, on campus and outside of it. It manifests in microaggressions and blatant aggressions against our bodies, our ideas, our mobility and our access to space. To explain all of these manifestations would take longer than the extent of this article and would further emphasize the idea that it is necessary to provide continuous hard or empirical evidence to justify individuals’ emotional reactions, responses and experiences. In fact, the national reaction over the past week has been clear evidence that sexism reaches the Williams community. The conversation in the national media, along with a lot of dialogue on this campus following the cancellation of the Venker event, has been founded on the idea that our emotions and our reactions to this event have been invalid, overdramatic and the incorrect way of dealing with “academic” discourse. Legitimate dissent by women and femmes has been characterized as motivated ignorance, hypersensitivity and ideological close-mindedness.

Invalidating the experiences of marginalized people because of the manner in which their emotions are presented is a common derailing tactic used to further silence our voices; it demands that we speak of said marginalization solely in a detached and abstract way if we want to be believed or heard. But for us, there is nothing abstract about these struggles. Our pain is real and it demands to be noticed and asking us to pretend that pain does not exist in order to participate in discussions about the structures that cause it is inherently bad discourse. Our emotions and experiences are not only valid but necessary for understanding the ways privilege and marginalization function. The demand that we censor our emotions to gain access to our own narratives is inherently oppressive because it ensures that few of us are granted permission to influence conversations about our own lives.

This is one of the many ways that privilege is exerted to silence marginalized voices, as well as one of the ways it has been used by the media to paint our protest as small-minded and reactionary. In reality, our protesting created exactly the kind of uncomfortable dialogue that Uncomfortable Learning claims to support. By canceling the event and deleting an online record of our original efforts—two decisions that were wholly within their rights, as both platforms were created by them and theirs to remove—the leaders of Uncomfortable Learning erased our work and silenced our voices, eliminating all history of the uncomfortable learning in which we engaged and allowing the media to create a false narrative that portrayed Uncomfortable Learning and Suzanne Venker as victims of political correctness and leftist ignorance. This narrative ignores the factual reality of our protest, which necessitated our familiarity and engagement with ideology that is not only “uncomfortable,” but also debates our fundamental humanity and, in the case of our trans protesters, self-determined existence. It ignores the factual reality of our intentions, not to prevent Venker from speaking, but instead to respond to the decision to bring her and prepare to engage with her. We expended precious time and energy for an effort that was both exhausting and dehumanizing, all in the name of learning, and yet the press has continually portrayed us—and not the group that responded to criticism by shutting down a Facebook page and canceling an already-funded event—as being frightened by challenging perspectives. In addition to being insulting and invalidating, this line of attack is blatantly misrepresenting the reality of our work.

We are not afraid of challenging perspectives. We are tired. We crave safety. We need rest. So we create safe spaces and devote time to promoting love and healing for those of us who have never known safety because nowhere is safe—not by force or by calls for censorship, but by creating community. We understand, better than the Suzanne Venkers of the world, what our attackers say and how they use their voices to manipulate and harm us, and no amount of “motivated ignorance” can erase that understanding. We are not obligated to justify our right to humanity to anyone. And yet, every time controversy arises on this campus, we rally to defend ourselves, and fight for the right to determine our own narratives. Nothing about us is disengaged or insular and to say otherwise is to willfully misrepresent the nature of our struggles and labor.

25 thoughts on “Learning Through Dissent – Annika Guy, Emily O’Brien, Gerardo Pelayo Garcia, and Sam Alterman

  1. It’s really cool and interesting that this conversation has been started from the cancelled Venker lecture.

    It’d be even cooler if Venker had the opportunity to visit Williams and provide responses to some of your questions.

    And it’d be even cooler than that if Williams students could initiate these types of discussions without fear of very public character assassinations for raising questions in the first place.

    • Liberals cloak themselves in a sort of “we care more than you” mantra and thus free themselves to conduct any sort of abhorrent activity. And so, while we spend on Great Society programs more than TRIPLE the cost of all American wars COMBINED with nearly ZERO movement in poverty rates, liberals assault – in the most vile ways they can think of – anyone who so much as hints at needed reforms.

      It’s long past time that liberals accept the fact that they routinely force conservatives into silence through threats and intimidation. Thus liberalism has devolved into what can only be seen as modern day Nazism. Until liberals accept this, they’ll only get worse. Do you ever notice the assaults on Fox News are little different than what the KKK says about blacks: “everything was fine until ‘they’ started demanding to be heard”.

  2. TW: logic

    >Our intention was never to silence, censor, interrupt or intimidate Venker or the leaders of UL in any way…

    Sure, point taken. You’re right–they certainly should not have cancelled, and the media’s talk of some phantom threat of violence was flat-out wrong (speculation, I’ll add, that did not originate with Mr. Wood, as he has repeatedly clarified on Facebook). But you’re downplaying the insane hysterics of people’s personal attacks on Mr. Wood and other members of UL, which is odd and conspicuous given your later discussion of the mental harm that comes with unfettered free speech.

    >So what were our intentions? To put it quite simply, we wanted nothing more than a peaceful protest… “You are definitely allowed to have your space and have your talk, but we will also be occupying space surrounding this topic.”

    Great. That’s productive, awesome. You would have provided a kind of back-and-forth that most of the time does not exist at the College in a meaningful way.

    >We challenge Venker to cite a single intellectually rigorous source to defend any of her claims instead of stating opinion as fact and an absence of evidence as evidence of absence.

    You should probably write to her in that case, if you’re genuinely curious. Have you read any of her books?

    >For example, in the published version of her planned talk, she refers to an article in the Journal of Economic Literature… This is not the level of academic rigor expected at Williams College.

    Venker is under no obligation to provide you citations in a transcript of a speech she was prepared to give. I suspect if you had fielded the question in person, she might be able to help out more. In the meantime, I’d refer you to the contact page on her website, because it’s becoming confusing whether this address is for our student body or for her.

    As an important aside, denoting “academic rigor” as an important quality for speakers to possess is incredibly elitist. If it were so all-important a metric by which to judge, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to invite such ruggedly charming yet unacademic speakers as, say, Jiz Lee to campus.

    >Similarly, there is an important difference between engaging in uncomfortable but productive discourse and questioning the humanity of already marginalized groups of people.

    What is that important difference? You tell us you believe in it without every explaining the distinction.

    >We believe that it is justifiable for people to respond emotionally to speakers who question their humanity and gender identity, especially when that questioning aligns with a societal epidemic of hatred and violence.

    OK. Where does the line get drawn? Where does harassment become an issue? Where does one become responsible for the potentially traumatizing mental harm–because we’re going to play by your rules here–one causes in hysterical character assassinations or verbal harassment on campus?

    (Thank you for not confusing this belief as a fact, by the way.)

    >A great deal of criticism in the media has focused solely on a specific comment a Williams student made in response to Venker speaking:

    “When you bring a misogynistic, white supremacist men’s rights activist to campus in the name of ‘dialogue’ and ‘the other side,’ you are not only causing actual mental, social, psychological, and physical harm to students, but you are also—paying—for the continued dispersal of violent ideologies that kill our black and brown (trans) femme sisters. You are giving those who spout violence the money that so desperately needs to be funneled to black and brown (trans) femme communities, to people who are leading the revolution, who are surviving in the streets, who are dying in the streets. Know, you are dipping your hands in their blood, Zach Wood.”

    Leaving this quote in full because I have a sense of humor.

    >Looking past the language, which has already been dissected ad nauseum, it is necessary to explain the structural argument being made. The commenter notes that there is a disproportionate amount of violence taken against trans communities of color.

    Was Ms. Venker at Williams to discuss transgender communities of color? How is this relevant? Sorry, that’s totally rhetorical: it’s obviously not. We didn’t prevent Angela Davis from speaking with respect to victims of gun violence. We don’t stop Israeli speakers from coming because they implicitly or explicitly support settlements in the West Bank (and we don’t stop Palestinians because they support anti-Israeli violence).

    >On October 6th, Suzanne Venker shared an article on Facebook titled “Houston transgender bathroom bill debate centers on differing definitions of ‘men’,” and in her commentary refers to trans women as “biological men.”

    Do you dispute the sex of people born with an XY composition? I suspect you do the gender, but how about the sex? Do you have evidence that Ms. Venker is referring to one or the other?

    >Uncomfortable Learning is financially backing and ideologically contributing to the epidemic of violence against trans women of color in the United States.

    This is silly. This is like saying that by contributing to the Bernie Sanders campaign you’re supporting gun violence in the rural Northeast because he’s soft on gun control. UL doesn’t endorse any of its speakers (for good reason!). She was not commenting on trans issues. Don’t waste your readers’ time with this logical misdirection.

    >The argument that college students need to be exposed to anti-feminist views through speakers like Suzanne Venker ignores the very real and unavoidable misogyny present in our lives…

    For someone so interested in Venker’s “academic rigor,” you have zero evidence–anecdotal or data-driven–of anti-feminism’s purportedly onerous effects at Williams College.

    >Suzanne Venker, on the other hand, ardently argues the exact opposite… We would love to live in this world where society constantly tells women that women are great and that they can break glass ceilings.

    Does this happen at Williams? Does anyone who argues a point of view meaningfully different from this exist at Williams?

    >…Still, Venker denies that society silences women and argues that the media is controlled by a “feminist elite” that ensures male voices are “rarely heard” on issues that affect primarily women.

    I would have been interested to hear Venker’s response to this. There’s some really fascinating back-and-forth on it. For example, in the 2015 version of the text you just cited, researchers found that women were twice as likely to get STEM tenure than equally qualified men. Here’s the full text if you’d like to read: http://www.pnas.org/content/112/17/5360.full.pdf

    >The idea that it was necessary to invite Venker to the College in order to educate us about anti-feminism, transmisogyny and homophobia operates under the assumption that the College is already a safe space in which feminism is the rule and not the exception—an assumption that is false.

    Can you explain why a safe space needs to be the foundation of seemingly any intellectual conversation at Williams? I’m very confused; it seems as if you’re insulting those who need them with the implicit accusation that they’re too fragile to hear arguments that collide with their own beliefs.

    >Antifeminism manifests in a multitude of ways in spaces that we have all been exposed to, on campus and outside of it.

    So is a space not truly “safe” and ready for open debate about an issue until the intellectual threat against that issue is entirely eliminated? What sorts of calculations are involved there?

    >It manifests in microaggressions and blatant aggressions against our bodies, our ideas, our mobility and our access to space. To explain all of these manifestations would take longer than the extent of this article and would further emphasize the idea that it is necessary to provide continuous hard or empirical evidence to justify individuals’ emotional reactions, responses and experiences.

    Yes, gathering data is hard, apparently as much as it is for you as you assert it is for Ms. Venker. You cannot hand-wave this off in the same way that she cannot.

    >In fact, the national reaction over the past week has been clear evidence that sexism reaches the Williams community… Legitimate dissent by women and femmes has been characterized as motivated ignorance, hypersensitivity and ideological close-mindedness.

    Yes, it has, by a wide variety of publications, a large number of which are known to be very supportive of third-wave feminist causes (e.g., Slate, the Washington Post, etc.). Also see the earlier point about causing emotional harm to the targets of this hysteria. Note that many of the most inflammatory attacks were aimed not at Uncomfortable Learning but individual community members.

    >Invalidating the experiences of marginalized people because of the manner in which their emotions are presented is a common derailing tactic… Our pain is real and it demands to be noticed and asking us to pretend that pain does not exist in order to participate in discussions about the structures that cause it is inherently bad discourse.

    I’m sorry that you feel that pain. I also think you have an obligation to own up to your words, especially when they’re viciously attacking another person. By the way, where does the the fact that two of the victims of these attacks that you’re defending fit are people of color fit into this?

    >Our emotions and experiences are not only valid but necessary for understanding the ways privilege and marginalization function. The demand that we censor our emotions to gain access to our own narratives is inherently oppressive…

    No, it’s really not. To return to a previous example: is it OK for Israeli Jews to slander Palestinians (or resort to physical violence) as an emotional reaction to a perceived tendency of antisemitic oppression from Muslims?

    The way you attempt to absolve marginalized people of responsibility for their own reactions is infantilizing and patronizing.

    >In reality, our protesting created exactly the kind of uncomfortable dialogue that Uncomfortable Learning claims to support.

    I agree. Kudos.

    >By canceling the event and deleting an online record of our original efforts… the leaders of Uncomfortable Learning erased our work and silenced our voices…

    I suspect this might more have been a result of the intense personal attacks the leaders of UL were receiving rather than a conspiratorial decision to silence voices. It’s worth noting, as you do not, that at least one of the most aggressive polemics against the leaders was also deleted. The difference there is that UL’s leaders (its targets, of course) had the foresight to capture it in a screenshot. This raises an interesting question of intellectual ownership of one’s own words. I agree with you in what I take to be your general philosophy on the topic: the originator of the quote in question had every right to delete, as did UL’s leaders the page they created and administrated. But in both cases, the items being deleted included criticism aimed directly at and therefore involving other parties, so do those other parties have a say? You seem to imply they should.

    In any event, I still agree that they should not have deleted the page.

    >We are not afraid of challenging perspectives. We are tired. We crave safety. We need rest. So we create safe spaces…

    And I commend these efforts, because there is nary a wall at Williams without a poster advertising a “safe space” or similar phrases. You and other Williams students have gotten people talking about these issues 24/7, so kudos to you for bringing light to them.

    >and devote time to promoting love and healing for those of us who have never known safety because nowhere is safe

    As long as anyone with the capacity to harm anyone else (i.e., human beings) is around, you are correct. Nowhere is safe. Practically taken, that is a meaningless statement.

    >—not by force or by calls for censorship

    So you’re telling me a “safe space” is one in which there’s entirely free speech? Ms. Venker doesn’t seem to violate that, then. Great!

    >…We understand, better than the Suzanne Venkers of the world, what our attackers say and how they use their voices to manipulate and harm us,

    Sorry, you’ve spun so far off-topic that I don’t understand. Who are your attackers? Why doesn’t Ms. Venker understand them? How is this relevant to the point of this post?

    • Stopped reading at “TW: logic.” Engaging in informed debate is great, but bluntly mocking your opponent’s beliefs and ideas (i.e., the concept of trigger warnings) is in supremely bad taste.

      • I agree using a mocking tone is in bad taste. What you’re doing, however, is what is actually supremely bad taste. It illustrates one of the points this comment you did not read and critics of the universal safe spaces make: completely dismissing an argument — not even reading it — because you do not like the tone is childish and wrong.

        You are not a child. You should not have to be coddled in safe space language in order to process someone else’s argument.

  3. “If someone is going to somehow compare my sexual orientation to domestic abuse, I have no desire or willingness to engage with that person.”

    That seems a little insular pals, not to mention, [the authors (name redacted by moderators)] provide no evidence that this comparison was made. And if it was, just because it hurts the poor [authors (name redacted by moderators)], does that really mean that we should not give other students the opportunity to understand the view of someone who thinks that?

    [The authors (name redacted by moderators)] would say: our dissent is not censorship.

    But let’s stop lying: [the authors (name redacted by moderators)] want people who support them and think they’re great to be in their safe space. Anyone else is banned. Shame on them for making them feel unsafe for having an opinion that makes them feel dehumanized.

    We should all mourn. After all, “we crave safety.”

    P.S: We’re selling little blue blankies free of charge for those who need warmth in this cold, cold world.

    • Editor’s Note: The author’s name was removed out of privacy concerns.

      I find it quite wonderful that you are able to pull one quote from a thread over a week ago but can’t scroll up a few inches to see where I directly quote an interview she did with Boston University Today.
      “The abuse problem is smaller than it’s made out to be, and when you draw attention to something that’s so terrible, it’s like the issue of homosexuality today. The awareness that gays exist, or that terrible men beat their wives, is good to recognize but not to belabor or exaggerate. It’s almost as if every man is a potential abuser or every man is gay.”
      Source: http://www.bu.edu/today/2011/bu-alum-assails-feminism-as-%E2%80%9Cdead-end-road%E2%80%9D/
      As for my comment that I have no desire to engage, that was a misstatement made halfway through a very long and frustratingly circuitous argument. A more accurate statement of my views is found earlier in the thread:
      “However, when someone decides to bring someone to campus who has at one point implied that gay men and domestic abusers are somehow morally equivalent and who believes that my gender identity is somehow compromised by not having a wife and children, I take deep offense to the notion that I am somehow supposed to analyze her hatred and “learn something from it”, and that my protest at her being able to promote herself based on association with our institution is somehow a sign of closed-mindedness.”
      I am not attempting to insulate myself from criticism. I have on many occasions invited my critics to reach out to me via Facebook to actually have a conversation about what’s going on face to face. I do, however, think that I should not have to defend my humanity based on private consenting relations I engage in with other legal adults.
      I would love to actually have a conversation face to face about this rather than leaving nasty comments on the Williams Alternative—you’ve seen the One Step Forward and We Keep Going event thread, so I’m going to assume you can access my Facebook. Please feel free to reach out to me and I’m more than happy to share a meal and talk about this.

    • It should also be noted that at least two of the authors suffer from severe depression and have attempted suicide several times because of their sexual orientation. Perhaps your blankets will not be adequate.

  4. 17 hit on a lot of the specific points I wanted to make, so I’ll try to keep this relatively short and general.

    This article breaks down into two pieces: a response to issues surrounding the protest, and an attack against Venker. Let’s tackle the former first.

    Near the beginning of the article, the authors cry out against purported misunderstanding of intent:

    > [This controversy] has since been heavily misconstrued by the press.

    > Our intention was never to silence, censor, interrupt or intimidate Venker or the leaders of UL in any way.

    > The supposed risks of … interruption were all conclusions that the leaders of UL arrived at without evidence or consultation.

    > These protesters were not … trying to cancel the event in any way.

    > There was never a call to cancel Venker’s talk.

    The clear message here is that there was ostensibly NO CHALLENGE to the talk, especially as represented in the last quotation. Ironically, almost to the point of hilarity, the ensuing 2000 words of the piece are devoted to attacking Venker’s platform and making it clear in no uncertain terms that the authors feel her talk should have been canceled.

    In light of this and the public hatred, vitriol, and aggression towards Ms. Venker, it is naïve (at best) to suggest that those with strong opinions about the topic would be unlikely to interrupt. I am certain that the official intent and policy of the feminist body at Williams (such as there is) was to refrain from verbal commentary until the Q&A and to contain it therein, but I have not a shred of a doubt that she would have been accosted in some form, whether verbally or physically, at some point before, during, or after her presentation. The suggestion that the risks assessed by UL were somehow invalid because they failed to consult with feminist leadership is laughable; the decision to cancel the event in light of such a disproportionately furious public outcry was not only reasonable but prudent.

    To address the latter (attack) section of the article more directly: why does this matter? Is this article intended to be a polemic piece attacking Suzanne Venker and validating the ideology of the protest, or a well-reasoned defense of the protest in light of general misconception?

    The college spends millions of dollars annually on events that I don’t care about, and hundreds of thousands, at least, on causes I believe to be harmful. Rather than participating in or organizing a radical coalition that pickets, threatens, or saturates those events and financial decisions with angry, emotional responses, I recognize that though I personally disagree with them, most of these parties have the support of some subset of the Williams population. As such, to demand their removal is to demand a diminishment of the range of discourse possible at the college and a marginalization of those people who agree with them. I find that marginalizing anyone, even if I find their opinions to be unreasonable or flawed, to be undesirable in the pursuit of free speech, and I restrict my dissent to calm discussion with peers and professors. I suggest that the authors consider taking this route the next time their opinions are challenged.

  5. Much of your ‘logic’ is trash. Just because you’ve managed to put smugness into writing doesn’t mean your right. And tbh I suspect that you know that and are simply trolling. But in case you’re serious I’ve responded. You’re welcome.

    >Venker is under no obligation to provide you citations in a transcript of a speech she was prepared to give. I suspect if you had fielded the question in person, she might be able to help out more. In the meantime, I’d refer you to the contact page on her website, because it’s becoming confusing whether this address is for our student body or for her.
    As an important aside, denoting “academic rigor” as an important quality for speakers to possess is incredibly elitist. If it were so all-important a metric by which to judge, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to invite such ruggedly charming yet unacademic speakers as, say, Jiz Lee to campus.

    – Concerning Venker’s obligation to provide citations in the transcript of her speech, I and several style guides, would disagree with your assertion that meaningful citations in speeches are unnecessary.
    – It’s stated in the article that they wanted her to come to campus so they could ask her questions, I’ve no doubt this would have been one of them.
    – To compare a talk in which Jiz Lee is tasked with sharing their own experiences and opinions and a talk where Ms. Venker takes on the task of invalidating an entire ideology and intellectual discourse is to compare apples to oranges, and I don’t doubt that you know that. However I’ll be explicit for you. The problem lies in that Ms. Venker presents her opinion as fact, and uses unqualified generalizations to back it up. Jiz Lee presents their own opinion as opinion, and uses a combination of their own experience, personal anecdotes, and industry surveys to back it up. Jiz Lee presents themselves as a pornstar making observations and offering social commentary, Venker presents herself as an academic. Ms. Venker’s lazy intellectual arguments are not befitting of someone presenting themselves as an academic.

    >What is that important difference? You tell us you believe in it without every explaining the distinction.

    A brief lesson in critical reading for you, definitions can be given positively, negatively, or relatively. It’s clear that you were hoping for a positive definition of this difference, something along the lines of “the difference is…” whereas the definition in this text is given relatively, by defining what a productive discourse would look like. Go back to the text and try to find it. I’ll give you some choices, and you can get back to me.
    (a) productive discourse avoids controversy for the sake of controversy (sensationalizing a peaceful protest)
    (b) productive discourse avoids ‘extraordinary claims’ or at the very least back up these extraordinary claims with fact.
    (c) productive discourse carries out the discussion that it starts, and responds to criticism (looking at you UL)
    (d) all of the above

    >OK. Where does the line get drawn? Where does harassment become an issue? Where does one become responsible for the potentially traumatizing mental harm–because we’re going to play by your rules here–one causes in hysterical character assassinations or verbal harassment on campus?
    (Thank you for not confusing this belief as a fact, by the way.)

    They didn’t confuse their belief with fact, they explicitly stated that it was their belief…
    And as far as the line, that is something for another article, perhaps a thesis or dissertation.

    >”…”Leaving this quote in full because I have a sense of humor.

    Do you?

    >Was Ms. Venker at Williams to discuss transgender communities of color? How is this relevant? Sorry, that’s totally rhetorical: it’s obviously not. We didn’t prevent Angela Davis from speaking with respect to victims of gun violence. We don’t stop Israeli speakers from coming because they implicitly or explicitly support settlements in the West Bank (and we don’t stop Palestinians because they support anti-Israeli violence).

    You’re responding to something outside of your quoted passage, see how easy it is to get sidetracked? Regardless, I think you’re respondingto the claim that this talk gives monetary support to hate based violence. I personally do not agree with this line of thinking, but we must both admit that the logic of it was well presented in this article. Also leave Angela Davis out of this.

    >Do you dispute the sex of people born with an XY composition? I suspect you do the gender, but how about the sex? Do you have evidence that Ms. Venker is referring to one or the other?

    Do you know what a straw man is?

    >This is silly. This is like saying that by contributing to the Bernie Sanders campaign you’re supporting gun violence in the rural Northeast because he’s soft on gun control. UL doesn’t endorse any of its speakers (for good reason!). She was not commenting on trans issues. Don’t waste your readers’ time with this logical misdirection.

    You should really have numbered these points of yours. Anyway this was addressed earlier.

    >For someone so interested in Venker’s “academic rigor,” you have zero evidence–anecdotal or data-driven–of anti-feminism’s purportedly onerous effects at Williams College.

    Please refer to page 33 for statistics regarding sexual offenses and partner violence
    http://security.williams.edu/files/2015/10/Clery-2015-2.pdf
    You’re welcome.

    >I would have been interested to hear Venker’s response to this. There’s some really fascinating back-and-forth on it. For example, in the 2015 version of the text you just cited, researchers found that women were twice as likely to get STEM tenure than equally qualified men.

    Cool, fascinating, great article.
    You’ve only responded to one of their citation, and none of their general claims, unless you are suggesting that STEM tenure decisions are representative of the position of women in the labor market. But I don’t think you’d be doing that because that would be misleading right?

    >Can you explain why a safe space needs to be the foundation of seemingly any intellectual conversation at Williams? I’m very confused; it seems as if you’re insulting those who need them with the implicit accusation that they’re too fragile to hear arguments that collide with their own beliefs.

    Whenever safe spaces come up there are always accusations of fragility. I don’t understand that. I digress. UL has defined itself as contrary. It brings speakers on the basis that the type of learning they provide is ‘uncomfortable’, this necessarily assumes that all of the other learning on campus is comfortable, read ‘safe’. They position themselves as heroes tearing down militantly liberal orthodoxy. The writers are simply suggesting that this orthodoxy is not as strong as the writers are suggesting, and that UL has falsely designated themselves heroes.

    So explicitly for you, because I know you like that. It’s not the writers that suggest the necessity of a safe space, but UL itself. Because if the space weren’t safe, read comfortable’, then they would be unnecessary.

    >So is a space not truly “safe” and ready for open debate about an issue until the intellectual threat against that issue is entirely eliminated? What sorts of calculations are involved there?

    Again the point isn’t that unsafe spaces aren’t prepared for debate, but that the debate is already being waged without UL and without Ms. Venker.

    >Yes, gathering data is hard, apparently as much as it is for you as you assert it is for Ms. Venker. You cannot hand-wave this off in the same way that she cannot.

    If you’ll once again refer to the campus safety and security report you’ll notice nonzero totals for bias incidents, which are usually considered under reported. You can look those article up on your own.

    Ugh, I’m bored of responding to your half baked logic presented as genuine intellectual engagement. That is the underlying conflict to this whole fiasco. The protesters are sick of half-baked logic, unsupported facts, and genuine misogyny masquerading as legitimate academic discourse, all for the sake of making those who are already uncomfortable MORE uncomfortable.

    • >Much of your ‘logic’ is trash… You’re welcome.

      Thank you, thank you.

      >Concerning Venker’s obligation to provide citations in the transcript of her speech, I and several style guides…

      “Style,” as you put it, is subjective presentation. I’m glad we can agree this should exist in consideration only after other fundamentals are agreed upon.

      >To compare a talk in which Jiz Lee is tasked with sharing their own experiences and opinions and a talk where Ms. Venker takes on the task of invalidating an entire ideology and intellectual discourse is to compare apples to oranges…

      No, it’s not. Both are dissenters in their fields. Ms. Venker subverts an ideology and approaches what she sees as a serious problem to young women’s health with iconoclastic, clearly emotion-arousing arguments. Ms. Lee subverts an industry that she sees as misogynistic and problematic by entering it and attempting to turn it on its head. Remind me, as well, where exactly Ms. Venker presents herself as an academic? I’m not seeing the purported Ph.D.. I must have missed that claim. On her website, she identifies herself as an “author [and] cultural critic.” Do you contend that description?

      What is that important difference? You tell us you believe in it without every explaining the distinction.

      >A brief lesson in critical reading for you, definitions can be given positively… Go back to the text and try to find it. I’ll give you some choices, and you can get back to me.

      Nah, I’ll pass on that. I’ll return to my request to the original authors: where does that difference lie? Can you give me an example of a talk that would straddle or would come to straddling that difference for you?

      >They didn’t confuse their belief with fact, they explicitly stated that it was their belief…

      Yes, and that’s why I thanked them for it.

      >Do you [have a sense of humor]?

      Yes, obviously, given my responses here.

      >You’re responding to something outside of your quoted passage, see how easy it is to get sidetracked? Regardless, I think you’re respondingto the claim that this talk gives monetary support to hate based violence. I personally do not agree with this line of thinking, but we must both admit that the logic of it was well presented in this article. Also leave Angela Davis out of this.

      Yes, that’s exactly what I was arguing. Davis is an obvious example of how Williams can argue that it’s bringing and paying an interesting speaker to speak without tacitly supporting terrorism by doing so. I think you understood that, so there’s no reason not to bring up an example to make it easier for Ms. Guy, et al., to comprehend. It’s fuzzy, silly logic, as you seem to agree.

      >Do you know what a straw man is?

      Obviously–that’s why I’ve been so patient in responding to you. I’m holding them to their own hypersensitive worldview.

      >You should really have numbered these points of yours. Anyway this was addressed earlier.

      Thanks. Will remember to next time (third response?).

      >Please refer to page 33 for statistics regarding sexual offenses and partner violence
      http://security.williams.edu/files/2015/10/Clery-2015-2.pdf
      You’re welcome.

      Remind me how Williams’ (tragic and reprehensible) rates of sexual assault are directly related to antifeminism on campus. There’s no data to support that. I can just as easily posit that it has much more to do with a lot of young, sexually active people and a lot of flowing alcohol.

      >Cool, fascinating, great article.
      You’ve only responded to one of their citation, and none of their general claims, unless you are suggesting that STEM tenure decisions are representative of the position of women in the labor market. But I don’t think you’d be doing that because that would be misleading right?

      Doesn’t take much to realize that I’m calling them out on making a monolithic, categorical claim about feminism in a specific industry and highlighting that there’s more nuance to it. If only there existed a program–maybe a speaker series!–on campus that could similarly tease out those issues in campus conversation…

      >fragility. I don’t understand that.

      I explained why beforehand, as I think you saw. There’s also an excellent recent “South Park” episode (as someone has amusingly linked) that’s very good satire and might be worth your watch. Not kidding.

      >It brings speakers on the basis that the type of learning they provide is ‘uncomfortable’, this necessarily assumes that all of the other learning on campus is comfortable, read ‘safe’.

      I doubt UL’s founders would claim all learning is comfortable at Williams (they’d be stupid to do so, because there are many, many excellent professors who to the contrary agree that healthy debate is critical to learning), and I doubt you really believe they would say that. But I’m curious how many other speakers you can think of who’re similarly not “comfortable” per the “safe space” that Williams apparently needs, coming at arguments from a political posture that isn’t particularly left of center.

      >They position themselves as heroes tearing down militantly liberal orthodoxy. The writers are simply suggesting that this orthodoxy is not as strong as the writers are suggesting…

      Not really. As an above commenter astutely observes, that’s the initial claim, and they quickly swerve this piece into an attack on Venker’s general writing, not just the content of the talks. That’s fine–they’re entirely entitled to do so, as we know–but the scope of this piece is clearly more ambitious than you describe.

      >So explicitly for you, because I know you like that. It’s not the writers that suggest the necessity of a safe space, but UL itself. Because if the space weren’t safe, read comfortable’, then they would be unnecessary.

      Thank you so much. Explicit, clear language really is really important to my safe space.

      >…Again the point isn’t that unsafe spaces aren’t prepared for debate, but that the debate is already being waged without UL and without Ms. Venker.

      Where? Where is that debate happening? What other speakers similar to Ms. Venker have come and similarly challenged feminism’s clear ideological monopoly on gender issues on campus? Am I forgetting a hidden Dively series on the topic?

      >If you’ll once again refer to the campus safety and security report you’ll notice nonzero totals for bias incidents, which are usually considered under reported. You can look those article up on your own.

      w h e r e is the feminism

      >Ugh, I’m bored of responding to your half baked logic presented as genuine intellectual engagement.

      Aight.

  6. The over-arching problem here is that the four of you take self-reported feelings of victimization as a justification for anything you want to claim.

    An unmentioned example:

    >Statements supporting the idea that a trans woman’s gender identity is irrelevant, mythological or somehow skewed directly contribute to the disproportionate number of trans women of color murdered in the United States.

    Your argument is based on indirect causality. You are saying that Venker questions trans identities, so she is responsible for other people who choose to murder trans individuals. Really? By your logic, I could indict YOU for harming trans CHILDREN. How? By shutting down anyone from questioning people’s self-reported trans identity, you have sentenced thousands of children to undergo highly disruptive hormone therapy and surgeries that they take at too young an age. We DO have data that this might be a bad choice if they want to fully express their truest selves over time. For the sake of parody… “Your language makes me feel uncomfortable, because you are perpetuating a culture that does not allow the possibility that trans children will change their self-identity with a little time. Therefore, I don’t consider you to be intellectually serious, and I’m not going to listen to anything else you say.”

    http://www.psmag.com/health-and-behavior/why-transgender-kids-should-wait-to-transition

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25231780

    Williams needs a higher standard for responsible thinking.

    • This is literally a gigantic strawman argument. We make no statement about what medical procedures we believe trans-identifying youth should undertake. We simply state that in our opinion, the boundaries of learning at Williams shouldn’t question the humanity of Williams students. We never demand that this view become official Williams College policy, but simply voice our strong opposition to bringing speakers who deny the humanity of Williams students, while recognizing and respecting the right of student groups to do so.
      As for claiming everything is justified purely with feelings, the causal effect of anti-trans bias on the trans woman of color murder rate is well documented, as can be seen in this report from the Human Rights Campaign: http://hrc-assets.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com//files/assets/resources/HRC-AntiTransgenderViolence-0519.pdf If you want more information, I highly recommend read the full Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, available here: http://www.thetaskforce.org/static_html/downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf
      Finally, as for not citing sources for the discrimination at Williams, I was not aware of any large-scale studies of gender bias at Williams, so I deferred to the personal experiences of many woman and femmes I know here. The plural of anecdote is not evidence, but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

      • “Finally, as for not citing sources for the discrimination at Williams, I was not aware of any large-scale studies of gender bias at Williams, so I deferred to the personal experiences of many woman and femmes I know here. The plural of anecdote is not evidence, but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

        “absence of evidence”

        Sam, I don’t mean to be rude, but did you just admit that you have no compelling, large-scale evidence of gender bias at Williams? That would seem to undermine, well, pretty much all of the above piece.

        • I’m saying I don’t have any large-scale scientific evidence. However, as “15” pointed out above, we do have a serious problem with sexual assault on this campus, which is documented in the Campus Safety and Security reports. I have also heard from multiple female/femme identifying friends about professors calling on them less in class, or treating them dismissively. Finally, if you open up Yik Yak on any given day, you will find plenty of slut shaming and misogynistic comments. These combined make it not too much of a leap of logic to assume that there is, in fact, significant gender bias at Williams. However, I do agree that a large-scale study would be better evidence of systemic gender bias at Williams, and hope that can be carried out somehow.

      • Sorry, my comment wasn’t well-written. Yes, it’s a straw-man. That’s the point. I call it out as a parody.

        I was trying to show how wide the logical leap is between someone questioning trans identity, and the idea that they are to blame for violence against trans people. That’s a straw-man. It would be like me claiming that because you don’t allow for skepticism of trans identities, you are to blame for children who are treated with hormone therapy too early.

        In retrospect… I apologize for the over-generalized comment about feelings. My point was that if being offended is enough to silence someone, the offended party (and its defenders) might try to come up with any reason for feeling attacked by a set of words. Here, tangential murder statistics are used to ensure victim status and stop discussion.

        • I agree that being offended alone is not enough to silence. However, we do need to be aware of how our actions and words on this campus fit into societal structures of oppression. According to the same Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 41% of trans respondents reported having attempted suicide at some point, and that number was 51% for respondents who were bullied or harassed in school. For reference, the attempted suicide rate for the general population is 1.6%. This goes well beyond offense—this is a systemic problem in our society leading to many deaths a year.

  7. This piece cites to Venker’s missing citation – among other things – and concludes “This is not the level of academic rigor expected at Williams College.”

    There are numerous other instances of scholarly shortcomings in her work. For example, Venker’s prepared remarks claim:

    “The wage gap is also easily explained. It is nothing more than the mathematical quotient of the difference between the average annual income of all working women compared to the average annual income of all working men. It ignores the education and training each makes, as well as the difficulty and the danger of the job. It ignores the number of hours and overtime people accept, or whether or not they have to travel for the job. It ignores the amount of vacation and personal leave time each uses. What’s more, using this same comparison, research shows women earn more than men throughout their twenties. The Press Association found that from 2006 to 2013 women between the ages of 22 and 29 earned roughly $1,700 more than their male counterparts. However, the wage differential between the sexes flips once people move into their 30s.”

    But even looking at a generic “wage gap” wikipedia article, you can see that numerous studies control for these factors and still cannot reconcile all of the gap. Its disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_pay_gap_in_the_United_States#cite_ref-jec_p80_3-0

    Similarly, the study she cites doesn’t conclude a $1700 gap between men and women, it cites a £1100 discrepancy — because the study is from and about people in the UK. The failure to note this is also a bit misleading.

    http://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/aug/29/women-in-20s-earn-more-men-same-age-study-finds

    Properly critiqued, there are undoubtedly numerous other instances of sub-standard scholarship.

    In the process of Venker’s invitation and rescission of that invitation, there have been many fingers pointed in many directions. What everyone should agree about, though, is that whatever you think of Venker’s message, she was a sub-par messenger, not up to Williams Standards.

    MRL ’91 B.A. Economics (Women’s Studies Concentration)

  8. First, thank you for taking the time to write this thoughtful piece. I try very hard to understand other points of view.

    You claim (paraphrasing) at the outset that you had no intent or desire force a cancellation of the talk but were rather just staging a peaceful and civil protest.

    You then say:

    “Therefore, by funding Ms. Venker and her ideology, Uncomfortable Learning is financially backing and ideologically contributing to the epidemic of violence against trans women of color in the United States.”

    Putting these two ideas together is your final position
    a) Even though UL is directly contributing to violence in multiple ways, you still support Venker’s right to appear on campus?
    b) Venker has a right to talk but should not receive an honorarium
    c) What you said at the beginning isn’t really true

    It’s very confusing reconciling the first few paragraphs with the rest of the essay.

  9. I like the spirit of the article, and I do believe the author sincerely writes with the best of intentions. However, I disagree on multiple points.

    The *directness* of the link between Venker’s statements and actual violence against trans people, especially those of color, is not clear at all. If I believe that illegal immigration should be more strongly enforced, am I subtly contributing to the erasure of undocumented Hispanic families within the US and violence committed against them? I should think not, but this idea is the same concept used in the article to vilify Venker, although to a lesser degree. At what point is she responsible for the violence – which I’m sure she has never advocated for – committed against trans people?

    One argument that may be brought up is the ideology of white supremacy, which for so long perpetuated the abuses of slavery. And yet, when looking back upon how our nation has progressed from that point, it becomes clear that discourse from both sides of the argument was vitally important. Slaveowners and abolitionists alike argued against one another, slowly turning the tide in favor of abolishing slavery. If this discourse had never occurred, it is likely that the issue would never have been resolved. We are perhaps currently in a similar period in America regarding trans and feminist issues, one in which discussion and debate is absolutely crucial. And if you are tired of such debate, that is absolutely understandable. But this event was opt-in; no one was mandated to come. You could simply stay in your dorm, while allowing those who wanted to promote and further the discourse to attend the event of their own accord.

    And for heaven’s sakes, do not assume you know everything about a person by what you can find out about them online. Give them a chance to defend themselves before you prevent them from coming to your campus.

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