Hamilton College Won’t Talk about ‘She Fears You,’ but Keith Edwards Will

By October 14, 2010

More than two weeks have passed since Keith Edwards delivered his "She Fears You" presentation at Hamilton College, yet Hamilton has still not responded to FIRE’s letter requesting that attendance be made voluntary. Nor has Hamilton made any public statement about the event. (The event also wasn’t filmed, so non-attendees will never know exactly what Edwards said that night.) 

We may never know whether Hamilton is too embarrassed to explain whether it really believes there is a "rape culture" on campus, or whether Hamilton is so arrogant as to choose not to engage its critics. But thanks to Managing Editor for Commentary (and former FIRE intern) J.P. Freire in the Washington Examiner, we now have a better idea of Edwards’, shall we say, difficult to reconcile views on freedom of speech and conscience.

We appreciate the fact that Edwards took J.P.’s call. Edwards freely revealed that he usually charges $2,000 for a "She Fears You" lecture, but depending upon demand for a longer visit, that price could rise to $5,000 or even $10,000. J.P. then asked Edwards if the purpose of his program was to demonstrate that those who did not explicitly condemn "rape culture" were themselves responsible for its existence. Edwards "said yes." J.P. asked him whether this was about "shaming" others, but Edwards reportedly did not respond to that.

Edwards’ hypocrisy became apparent later in their conversation when J.P. asked him to clarify his views on free speech. "I don’t support any restrictions on people’s speech," he claimed. Wisely understanding that this statement did not match Edwards’ own teachings, J.P. pursued:

What about policies, based on your philosophy, that lead to universities punishing students for speech? If someone claims, for instance, that a student said something bigoted or racist or sexist – I’m not taking about a burning cross on someone’s lawn, but I am talking about someone saying something very, very offensive, possibly racist or misogynistic?

Unsurprisingly, Edwards’ answer was, "Well. That’s different." 

It isn’t. While Edwards may draw a moral distinction between the speech he finds acceptable and unacceptable, the First Amendment and subsequent Supreme Court decisions do not permit a "hate speech exception" to free speech. (This is why Sean wrote back in 2006, "There Is No Such Thing as ‘Hate Speech.’") To take just one example, in Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1 (1949), the Supreme Court invalidated the conviction of a preacher who insulted various political and ethnic groups during a public speech. The majority wrote: 

[The] function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger."

Until Edwards acknowledges that offensive speech is protected speech, he’s being utterly inconsistent in saying that he doesn’t support restrictions on people’s speech. 

Besides, a number of women and men have told FIRE how offensive and sexist they think Edwards and Hamilton have been in mandating an event that presses male students to acknowledge their complicity in a "rape culture" on campus. Edwards should be free to advocate for his point of view when he is invited to campus, of course. So should others whom Edwards might view as sexist.

Edwards’ views on freedom of conscience also seem illogical. He said to J.P. that "the purpose of this ["She Fears You"] is to empower people to speak up against things they don’t agree with." Empowerment of students to speak their minds is very important. Yet, when J.P. asked Edwards whether he thinks his event should be mandatory, Edwards replied, "That’s really up to the universities … many feel that it’s necessary to mandate that the students attend."

Hold on a minute. If Edwards truly believes that students should be empowered to speak out when they disagree with something, why won’t he explicitly defend their right to not attend an event with which they disagree?  

Finally, J.P. challenges Edwards to honor his own principles of consent: 

If his seminars were optional for attendees, or if they had to pay for the seminars themselves, no one would attend. And if Edwards thinks I’m wrong, he’s welcome to test my theory out by writing into his contracts that his seminars must only be optional.

It would be great to see Edwards accept J.P.’s challenge and take his chances in the free marketplace of ideas.

Schools: Hamilton College Cases: Hamilton College: Thought Reform of ‘Pro-Rape’ Male Freshmen