Content warning: discussion of transphobic rhetoric, mention of restricted eating
It’s the day after the protest, and I am tired.
I’ve skipped two classes and missed out on a much-needed $30 by not going into work. After spending last night co-organizing nearly one hundred siblings in support of trans students, protesting a Freedom Project speaker who defends the idea that trans women are either turned on by the idea of having a vagina or transitioned because they’re “extreme homosexuals,” I just don’t have it in me to be a Wellesley student today.
It’s 5 p.m., and I’m still in bed. I really should get dinner—I haven’t eaten all day. I don’t want to go down to the dining hall, but eventually I do. I run into too many strangers telling me how “strong” I am for pulling together an action so quickly and holding my own when the speaker insisted on engaging with protesters. I’m not any stronger than any other marginalized student at Wellesley College. When you’re one of us, defending your humanity comes with the territory. The college website doesn’t mention the mandatory minor in organizing many of us will graduate with (or in dealing with microaggressions, or in educating ignorant peers), but we learn of it within weeks of orientation.
Last night’s speaker, a cisgender woman who has done none of her own research on (or with) transgender people, had the gall to tell trans protesters we “don’t understand the full breadth of the trans experience.” In response to protesters stating they hadn’t entered the talk because they did not want to endorse the Freedom Project paying a transmisogynistic speaker to be here, another student tried to pull what she clearly saw as a trump card. The protester was supporting slave labor by having an iPhone, she claimed, so wasn’t the protest hypocritical? Weren’t the protesters already supporting things they disagreed with via their choice of phone?
I really do hope this complete lack of awareness regarding false equivalencies characterizes everyone who supports the Freedom Project. The alternative, that there are those who recognize the harm pseudoscientist speakers like last night’s cause their siblings and simply don’t care, hurts too much. Wellesley students are better than that, right?
Yesterday, a Freedom Project speaker’s presence was an attack on trans students. Last year, it was an attack on assault survivors. I could continue this list for far too long. I wholeheartedly believe in free speech, but supporting free speech in no way means I believe disproven opinions should be given a funded platform. There’s a difference between free speech or differences of opinion and championing ideas that invalidate someone’s existence. When asked about the multitude of studies on transgender women that disprove the theories she supports, last night’s speaker’s defense was that they weren’t worth her time.
Someone holding a “controversial” opinion does not warrant inviting them onto this campus, regardless of the validity of their claims and the harm that clearly unsupported claims can cause students, especially if that claim has already been used to directly cause harm. In the case of last night, the theories purported by the speaker have been used by everyone from the IRS (in an attempt to prove trans health expenses are not legitimate medical expenses) to health insurance companies (to deny trans people health care).
Wellesley College tacitly endorses the Freedom Project through their allocation of a dedicated office in Green Hall. The Freedom Project’s website, an extension of the college’s, is one of two organization pages Public Affairs allows to deviate from the typical format. The other is the Albright Institute. In practice, the main similarity between these organizations is their immense funding; is money all it takes to matter to Wellesley?
On Saturday, before the protest was even a thought in anyone’s mind, a professor emailed the faculty and staff mailing list to defend his involvement with the Freedom Project. He detailed the liberal speakers the project has brought before, as well as those they plan to invite in the future, including whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who is transgender. This rhetoric isn’t anything new: The Freedom Project has repeatedly defended itself by talking of its more liberal speakers. Here, they misconstrue the point their detractors are driving home. The issue at hand isn’t left vs. right, liberal vs. conservative, or safe vs. controversial. The issue at hand is harmful and untrue talks, that bring no value to the campus, vs. engaging and thoughtful speakers willing to inspect their own ideas in the same way Wellesley students routinely listen to alternative opinions and interrogate their own.
When we say speakers cause such harm to the student body, it’s not through mere exposure to controversy and differing opinion, as Freedom Project supporters have attempted to claim their critics argue, but through the knowledge that our institution funds those whose work and theories have been used to harm people like us. There is not an adequate counterbalance to be had. They do harm where they claim to do good, and constantly go against their mission statement. Their website states “The Freedom Project is grounded in the foundational idea of the liberal arts: that vigorous debate, disagreement and conflict are the source of intellectual growth and development and are to be embraced rather than avoided.” When you invite speakers who completely discount studies that disprove their theories, that avoid true vigorous debate by stating these studies are “not worth my time,” what intellectual development are you embracing? Whose growth are you stamping out?
Here’s what happens the day after the protest: the organizers are tired. Their grades drop a bit because when you’ve just gotten done defending your humanity, papers don’t seem to matter anymore. Their supporters offer hugs and comforting words, then vanish until the next protest. Their voices are heard, but no one in a position of power at Wellesley takes action—that is, of course, until a news outlet picks up the story.
What if something changed? What if administrators could convene with concerned students and investigate their claims simply because they care, before negative publicity threatens donations? This time around, that publicity has already hit, and members of the administration have reached out to hear what we have to say. Perhaps it is out of the goodness of their hearts this time. I’m grateful, but still so frustrated by the routine.
It’s the day after the protest, and we are so, so tired. It’s up to those in power to break the cycle.
For information about articles published anonymously, contact the Editor-in-Chief.
From February 2018 issue