To the Editors:
About 1964, a Wesleyan student board decided to invite the head of the American Nazi Party to speak on campus. The Board had college money, and the head of the Board (who was liberal and Jewish) thought it would attract a large audience. One of us, Peter, defended the action as free speech; the other, Steve, thought it was an improper use of the college podium.
We debated publicly and on WESU, and a student referendum was held — Steve’s view prevailed, and the invitation was withdrawn. Peter then had a bright idea — we organized a three-day symposium on the origins of Nazism in Hitler’s Germany, with films, professors, and outside speakers. The place was packed on all three days.
Perhaps the Wesleyan student body could take a page from our experience in the 60’s and figure out more constructive ways to deal with the tension between free speech and hate speech, and, in so doing, improve communication among various communities on campus. Attacking opinions expressed in writing by cutting budgets and destroying newspapers is not in anyone’s interest. There are clearly very strong and understandable sentiments felt by supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, and it would be useful to try to find ways to enhance communication, not curtail it.
A footnote: the two of us are not limousine liberals. We both spent much of the sixties and seventies risking our careers, our physical safety, and on occasion our lives in the battles over civil rights, police brutality, apartheid, and the Vietnam War. We had seminars with Martin Luther King on campus, we heard Malcolm X speak at Honors College, we went south on freedom rides, and we were tear gassed in Washington.We taught in inner city schools and grew organic food in Vermont.
Wesleyan was burning bright in our day. Now, it’s up to today’s Wesleyan student body to keep that flame alive.
Halliwell and Kelman are members of the Class of 1965.