Last Friday, students sitting-in at Amherst college called on president Biddy Martin to — among other things — announce that the college “do[es] not tolerate the actions of student(s)” who posted anti-activist “Free Speech” posters on campus, and to inform those who posted the flyers “that Student Affairs may require them to go through the Disciplinary Process if a formal complaint is filed, and that they will be required to attend extensive training for racial and cultural competency.”
In the week that followed, the Amherst activists have emerged — unsurprisingly — as Exhibit A for the argument that today’s campus activists are hostile to free speech and expression.
It looks like that argument may need to be adjusted a bit.
In a new statement released this evening, the Amherst activists offered some “necessary and much overdue … clarifications and updates” to their demands. In that statement, they say that the original demands that drew such negative attention were made “in haste” by a large, informal group of students responding to a quickly-changing and highly charged situation.
Those students were acting, the statement says, from a position of “urgency and emotion.” Their demands were intended (and described at the time) as provisional, but the “very public way” in which they were put forward drew more attention than was anticipated, giving the unintended impression that they were “final and non-negotiable.” Today, they say, meetings with administrators and public statements from the college have given them hope for the prospects for “collaboration with administrators, faculty, and staff over an extended period of time. Since Sunday, the Amherst activists have been engaged in discussions around how to “create more thoughtful shorter term and longer term goals” that will “keep the spirit” of the original demands while “acknowledg[ing] the need for revision and thoughtfulness.”
On the subject of freedom of expression specifically, the statement says that “the movement, both at its inception and now, by no means intend to stifle free speech.”
The group’s new demands have apparently not yet been released, and at this writing the original demands remain up on its website, so the precise nature of their criticism of the previous demands remains unclear. The strong impression left by tonight’s statement, however, is one of regret for their previous stance and of a commitment to freedom of speech in their future actions.
Events have been moving quickly on the country’s campuses this month, and plenty of people — students, faculty, administrators, and off-campus critics — have said and done things in haste that they’ve since had good reason to reconsider.
The Amherst students are to be commended for confronting that fact head-on.