Vassar College Chooses to Combat Unwanted Speech with More Speech, Not Censorship

February 14, 2013

Like so many First Amendment defenders before us, FIRE regularly calls upon college students, faculty, and administrators to combat speech they don’t like with more speech, as opposed to censoring unpopular speakers. Unfortunately, as our case archives demonstrate, that approach is too seldom followed. That’s why when students, faculty, or administrators buck the trend, we like to call attention to it.

Responding to the Westboro Baptist Church’s (WBC’s) announced plan to hold a protest at Vassar College, Vassar’s acting president, Jon Chenette, sent a campus-wide letter inviting the campus community to respond to WBC’s activity in a manner that would “celebrate the inclusiveness of our community and the multitude of backgrounds, interests, and preferences that enrich our experiences.”

Today, Inside Higher Ed reported on the campus response to Chenette’s call, noting that:

Some students and alumni created an online fund-raiser for the Trevor Project, which provides counseling for young gay people who may be facing crises or thinking of suicide. The initial goal was to raise $4,500 — or $100 for each minute that Westboro plans to be at Vassar. So far, contributions have topped $47,000.

By responding to WBC with speech and fundraising as opposed to censorship, the Vassar community provided an excellent blueprint for how universities should respond to even the most unwanted speech. I only wish more colleges and universities would do the same.