Protests by the Black Lives Matter chapter at the College of William & Mary successfully shut down a talk by an American Civil Liberties Union representative on Wednesday.
Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU in Virginia, was due to discuss the First Amendment, but was shouted down shortly after she began speaking.
Students holding signs lined up in front of the stage where Gastañaga was speaking, chanting “ACLU, you protect Hitler, too,” “ACLU, free speech for who?” and “the oppressed are not impressed.”
The protest was filmed and posted to the William & Mary Black Lives Matter Facebook page.
“In contrast to the ACLU, we want to reaffirm our position of zero tolerance for white supremacy no matter what form it decides to masquerade in,” the post reads.
A representative from Black Lives Matter spoke a little more than 20 minutes into the demonstration, accusing the ACLU’s of “hiding” behind the rhetoric of free speech to defend white supremacists.
This is a reference to the ACLU backing a white nationalist’s lawsuit against the city of Charlottesville, Va., where a bloody rally took place in August and resulted in a woman’s death.
William & Mary President Taylor Reveley released a statement:
William & Mary has a powerful commitment to the free play of ideas. We have a campus where respectful dialogue, especially in disagreement, is encouraged so that we can listen and learn from views that differ from our own, so that we can freely express our own views, and so that debate can occur. Unfortunately, that type of exchange was unable to take place Wednesday night when an event to discuss a very important matter – the meaning of the First Amendment – could not be held as planned.
The event, co-sponsored by William & Mary's student-run programming organization Alma Mater Productions (AMP) and the ACLU, was entitled “Students and the First Amendment.” The anticipated conversation never occurred when protestors refused to allow Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, to be heard. The protesters then drowned out students who gathered around Ms. Gastañaga seeking to ask her questions, hear her responses and voice their own concerns.
Silencing certain voices in order to advance the cause of others is not acceptable in our community. This stifles debate and prevents those who’ve come to hear a speaker, our students in particular, from asking questions, often hard questions, and from engaging in debate where the strength of ideas, not the power of shouting, is the currency. William & Mary must be a campus that welcomes difficult conversations, honest debate and civil dialogue.