Staff at the College of William and Mary plan to handle campus events differently after a Sept. 27 student protest resulted in the premature cancellation of a guest speaker.
Students from a Black Lives Matter chapter at the College of William and Mary interrupted Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of ACLU Virginia, as she began to speak in the Sadler Center.
Sudents stood in front of Gastañaga and chanted, condemning what they perceived as a shameful defense of white supremacy and of the Ku Klux Klan.
Gastañaga left the stage after more than a half hour and organizers canceled the event. W&M President Taylor Reveley called Gastañaga later that night to apologize. A video of the protest is posted to the Black Lives Matter chapter’s Facebook page.
In a statement Oct. 12, Reveley said the college plans to give event organizers more resources.
“Going forward, we will provide event organizers with more guidance as they plan and more support during events,” Reveley said.
Campus spokesperson Brian Whitson said the college will work closer with event organizers to plan for possible disruptions.
Students decided to protest Gastañaga’s event because the ACLU went to court to fight for the right of white nationalists to hold a rally in Charlottesville. After the August rally, the ACLU reiterated it intends to defend the right of free speech for all Americans, even if it did not necessarily agree with the group’s views.
From its Facebook page, the W&M campus Black Lives Matter chapter said it stands at odds with the ACLU and against white supremacy in American society.
“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 statement said.
Reveley urged students to listen to those who do not necessarily share their views.
“In my view, refusing even to hear ideas with which we disagree does nothing to sharpen our own capacity to combat them in a cogent, convincing fashion,” he wrote. “I do not believe it is an effective way to push toward needed change. And it is very unlikely to persuade those with whom we disagree to consider the possibility that they might be mistaken.”
Reveley said disrupting university functions and any infringement upon the rights of others is a violation of the college’s Student Code of Conduct.
Whitson declined to detail the punishment the college took against the protesting students, citing privacy laws.
“University practice, consistent with the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, is not to comment on student disciplinary matters,” he said in an email. “This is true for any disciplinary matter. But I do want to be clear that we take this very seriously and we are taking appropriate action.”
Whitson said the college will continue to have events on campus that touch on what for many students may be uncomfortable topics.
“We must be a campus that welcomes difficult conversations, honest debate and civil dialogue,” he said. “We are reviewing our planning and protocols and taking measures to prevent this from happening again.”
Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.