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In February, Williams College President Adam Falk unilaterally disinvited controversial writer John Derbyshire from the school’s student-run “Uncomfortable Learning” speaker series. The reason, according to President Falk, was that Derbyshire’s views—which have been called racist and sexist—made people too uncomfortable.

In short, Adam Falk missed the point.

Uncomfortable Learning’s president, Williams sophomore Zach Wood, wrote an op-ed for FIRE criticizing what was then the second such disinvitation in as many semesters.

Wood recently sat down with FIRE to talk about the importance of combating bad ideas with good ones, and how he experienced backlash for encouraging that difficult-but-necessary dialogue.

“There were students who were saying, ‘Zach Wood is causing literal harm, literal violence, on campus. Social violence, psychological violence, and physical violence,’” Wood remembered. “It was on Yik Yak, it was on Facebook, it was all over social media.” Wood even had notes slipped under his door.

But Wood looks to history for lessons on why the battle for free speech is one that’s well worth fighting.

“Ultimately, when I think about the figures that I admire most, I remember they’ve stood up for things when it was difficult to stand up for things that they believed in,” he said. “That’s Martin Luther King, that is our Founding Fathers. And, for me, that gives me strength.”

Wood says that when it comes to learning, being uncomfortable is one of the surest ways to achieve not just intellectual growth, but a deeper appreciation of the benefits of free expression.

“If we challenge ourselves to consider the possibility that we might be wrong on the things that we feel the deepest conviction about, it’s not necessarily about your views changing, it’s about gaining a deeper understanding,” he said. “I feel like that is the best way forward.”

Check out the full interview above, and subscribe to FIRE’s YouTube channel to receive automatic notifications when new material is posted.

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