In an editorial published Wednesday, the editorial board of The Student Life—the Claremont Colleges’ newspaper funded almost exclusively by mandatory student fees—“wholeheartedly disavow[ed] the sanctions Claremont McKenna College imposed” on students who blockaded the entrances and exits to a scheduled appearance by conservative scholar Heather Mac Donald at the college in April.

The board rests its case against the sanctions on a black-and-white portrait of moral rectitude. While the protesters are fearless warriors for social justice forcing the college onto “the long path towards equity,” CMC plays the role of the evil conservative campus scrambling to preserve its antiquated and morally bankrupt institutions.

By punishing the protesters for their heroic act of aggression in the face of Mac Donald’s objectionable views, TSL believes, CMC shirked its duty to advance justice: in this case, apparently, the muzzling of Heather Mac Donald.

But this definition of social justice, which would empower any sufficiently motivated group of students to shutter the speech and assembly privileges of others, contravenes the very purpose of higher education and, ironically enough, would provide a sufficient basis for suppressing the speech that TSL would prefer to see pervade the campus debate.

Imagine that it hadn’t been Heather Mac Donald speaking at the Athenaeum. Imagine instead that it had been you, and a group of students, convinced of your depravity, blockaded the doors and shoved away attendees in order to silence your dangerous words. Granted the freedom to silence on the basis of their moral outrage, your critics would have all the justification they could possibly need to muzzle you and deny you your audience—regardless of the content of your address.

In this way, the freedom to silence others suffocates all other freedoms, and it ushers in only a principle of power: whoever can silence speech is right to do so.

Such a principle would offer no protection to the marginalized. In the course of our nation’s history, marginalized groups have wielded their rights to speech and assembly in order to force profound changes to the moral constitution of this country and its people.

During the civil rights movement, opponents of Black equality wielded their political power and preeminence in mainstream moral thought to oppose social and political freedoms for Black Americans. If not for the right to point out the wrongfulness of these prevailing views and to be heard while doing so, the status quo would have prevailed far longer—perhaps even indefinitely—against the sharp challenges posed by Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders. Indeed, if not for these rights to speech and assembly, many freedoms which African Americans now enjoy might never have arisen at all.

With this in mind, even when speech is profoundly immoral or objectionable, we must protect it. For when we may wield our own moral authority to silence speech we find objectionable, those in power have full license to silence our own on the same grounds. In such a world, when the winds of power shift, we are left without refuge from the tyranny of the strong, regardless of the righteousness of our views.

Let us be perfectly clear: students had every right to protest Heather Mac Donald’s visit to campus. No matter how wrong or ill-informed they may have been about the true nature of her views, their rights to free speech and assembly deserve the same protection as Mac Donald’s. For this reason, the college could not have justified relocating the protesters to a soundproofed classroom, where their rage could not have been heard or seen. Neither would CMC have been entitled to shatter a peaceful protest by force, to threaten those present with discipline or physical harm if they continued criticizing the invited speaker, or to punish everyone who participated in the protests.

But the students whom CMC sanctioned were not engaged in mere peaceful protest. They blockaded the venue with the express purpose of stripping from Mac Donald her right to speak and denying her audience their right to listen. They sought not to criticize Mac Donald and her ideas, but to prevent their communication in the first place. They wielded power as a weapon to crush the rights of others, rather than as a shield to protect them.

Our rights cease to be rights when we treat them as a mere means. The value and purpose of rights lies in their neutrality—in the fact that all people, regardless of their politics, values, or stations in life, may enjoy the benefits that their rights entail. By seeking the destruction of the rights of others, these students undermined this essential guarantee and in so doing undermined the rights themselves.

Sanctioning these students was not an act of shame or fear or desperation. As TSL’s journalism amply demonstrates, it is convenient to surrender to the mob. It takes courage, however, to protect and preserve the liberties they threaten.

Through these sanctions, CMC has reaffirmed its commitment to the rights of all people to engage in free speech and assembly on its campus without fear of suppression and intimidation. And though the college’s fiercest critics may not realize it, if not for these rights, they could not be critics at all.


Matthew Reade — Editor-in-Chief
Sophie Mann — Deputy Editor-in-Chief
William Gu — Publisher
Megan Keller — Opinion Editor & CFO
Ross Steinberg — Managing Editor
Elliot Dordick — Senior Associate Editor


Photo credit to Walt Pourier / Flickr.

Categories: Rebuttal
  • Ernest

    Any student who takes part in such demonstrations should immediately be removed from the institution of higher learning.
    They obviously have not learned even the basic understandings of civil society.
    They have no foundation on which to build upon, therefore any and all resources invested in them, is a waste.

    • Jim Hatfield

      Well stated.

    • Nik, knot the St. Farm lozer

      Even worse than drug dealers.

  • Sinead

    All “studies” departments need to be immediately dismantled and discarded along with the post-modern Marxist zealots who indoctrinate students in the guise of educators. Pomona is fucked along with the majority of lib arts institutions, but it’s not too late to turn away from this death spiral.

    • Tatsu

      What’s about biological studies? Or studies of the physical world through chemistry? Or The study of art? Study of anatomy? Study of math? Study of automotive design? Study of organic systems? Study of biochemistry? Study of ecomonics? Study of literature?

      Do they need to go too? I rather like those things.

      • Steven

        You’re being obtuse and deliberate in your “misunderstanding”. No, you did not appear clever in your post.

  • Harold Wyrick

    This thuggery by students, in blocking the free movement of other people, exposes the narcissistic core of their belief system. As a handicapped individual, actions like this at CMC, when thugs at Middlebury College didn’t just block people from leaving, but climbed on top of the vehicle, when thugs at CSULA blocked entrances and *fire exits* at a theater (and pulled the fire alarm), are administrators going to wait until a disabled or handicapped person is harmed by these juvenile and illegal tantrums before they follow the law?

    There are access laws covering handicap access to buildings and venues that are being violated. It’s obvious that the socialists on the left don’t care about anyone who isn’t one of them, but adults in charge of ensuring federal access laws are followed are required to care about the ability of handicapped people to enter and leave, to travel unimpeded by barriers. What happened when the thugs at Berkeley daisy chained and blocked the bridge on campus? They forced even disabled people to cross a creek to get past their illegal blockade.

    It’s time for one of us, or some of us, to take these administrations to court, to start filing charges with the federal government. Before one of us is injured or hurt severely. These cretins can sit their ableness in a jail cell for a few months to see what having their free movement limited feels like.

  • Young Alum

    Tatsu you are quite stupid. The comment was very obviously referring to “Gender Studies” and other such vapid “disciplines”. Who has ever heard of a Mathematical Studies department. Idiot.

  • DrMichael

    Social justice is the antithesis of justice. Justice is something relevant to an individual. Social justice sacrifices justice and the individual’s rights in favor or group rights. We can’t have both.

    • Young Alum

      Absolutely right DrMichael. And Pomona’s emphasis on “social justice” over the rights of the individual is a detriment to it’s legacy and an embarrassment to me as an alum.

  • paperpushermj

    I’m sure if asked, the Black and Brown Shirts of the early 20th Century if asked they to could come up with Justifications for their actions as well….This shutting down the other side goes back before Writing ….and it’s always Justified

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  • May Loo

    The college was right to sanction the students. They need to realize that protesting the way they did would bring consequences. That is what an adult does – take responsibility for your decisions or actions.

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