By Margaret Flynn Sapia '19
Given the abundance of this year’s news articles, emails, and Facebook posts, I wouldn’t blame you for not wanting to read another Freedom Project story. I’m sure that the temptation to set down this magazine and do something else (like take a walk, eat some pie, or hide away with your Netflix account) is overtly compelling. Even as I sit down to write this, I’m having trouble knowing what to say. The last thing I want to do is polarize or inflame an already heated campus division, especially so close to the end of the year. However, the dialogue surrounding the Freedom Project has been missing a perspective.
Teachers, administrators, and various students have made their points, but most of the Project’s student fellows have yet to step out and publicly recount their Freedom Project experiences. Subsequently, there is a general campus misconception of what student fellows do and who we are. Whatever your thoughts about the Freedom Project are, the general criticisms it receives on campus don’t apply to its student fellows. I hope this article will clear up those misunderstandings.
Student fellows do not choose the Freedom Project’s speakers, do not have control over its administration, and do not necessarily agree with any of the viewpoints the Project brings to the table. Most students who join the Adam Smith (Freedom Project) Fellowship actually do so in order to confront opinions they could not disagree with more. Fellows don’t want to proselytize their views or make others uncomfortable; we want to explore and confront ideas scarcely found at Wellesley.
As a fellow, you are required to attend the Freedom Project’s lectures, as well as its Wintersession program. By the end of the year, you’ve discussed dozens of diverse perspectives and topics—from New Orleans’ Hurricane Katrina recovery to New York's educational reform. The Project certainly hosts conservative speakers—who sometimes choose misleading or exaggerated titles for their talks—but they are by no means the only ones invited. The diversity of other invited guests and faculty fellows balances the scale. Lectures on identity politics are accompanied by seminars on wealth inequality and refugee property rights. The Freedom Project’s two international faculty fellows who specialize in human rights work, from England and Turkey, will soon be joined by two more from Iran and Zimbabwe, representing a vast array of political, religious, and international outlooks. Speakers, faculty fellows, and student fellows will sometimes talk for hours—occasionally in unabashed admiration, and occasionally in complete disagreement.
As a student fellow, you are exposed to every one of the viewpoints brought in by the Freedom Project. You do not have to agree; you just have to listen. Once the other side has said their piece, you have the means and the opportunity to engage, question, and challenge their viewpoints. For example, take Mark Lilla’s talk on identity politics or Alex Epstein’s discussion of the morality of fossil fuels. Did I agree with the points they made? Nope. Did I find some of their arguments ludicrous in their lack of self-awareness? Absolutely. But through engaging with them, I considered points of view I had never encountered and, at the very least, learned how to argue and reconcile with those with whom I most profoundly disagree. The Freedom Project made my voice stronger, tougher, and more impactful. It helped me garner a sense of intellectual self criticism wherein I could recognize my biases and call them into question. Ultimately, this is what student fellows do best—we work hard to think, argue, and speak so that we can understand more.
The Freedom Project’s path has been tumultuous and full of imperfections. I will not offer excuses for its shortcomings—but I will continue to do my best to improve the Freedom Project, as all of its student fellows do. As Hillary Clinton ’69 said upon her recent visit to Wellesley, “you’ve got to be able to make the arguments, and not shut down those on the other side with some kind of dismissive attitude. I think there should be as broad a political spectrum of ideas and opinions represented as possible.” As the Project grows, I hope to transform it into a place for any Wellesley student who has a question, wants an answer, or seeks an intellectual challenge. I hope to make the Freedom Project a place that Wellesley’s students can be proud of—and I know that if the fellows keep working, it is headed in that direction.
From April 2017 issue