Hamilton College Students Demand Free-Speech Ban and Want White Faculty Out of Leadership

From limiting freedom of speech to discouraging white faculty from leading departments, Hamilton College’s ‘The Movement’ wants radical action across swaths of campus life.

12.02.15 1:59 AM ET

A group of students at Hamilton College, known only as The Movement, has given new meaning to the expression “everything but the kitchen sink” in a list of demands—“Demands by Hamilton College,” no less—sent to the college’s president.

Limiting freedom of speech; discouraging white faculty from leading departments; hiring of financial advisers to solely work with students of color; allocating student government seats specifically for “marginalized and underrepresented groups;” and erecting a statue in honor of the Oneida Native Americans are all among the demands.

In fact, the word “demand” is used 83 times in the nearly four-page, single-spaced screed.

Perhaps the one thing missing from the list of demands is a modicum of self-awareness.

According to the group’s Tumblr, in order “to act honestly and sincerely without fear of retribution or personal threats/attacks,” The Movement is anonymous and isn’t open to anyone joining, but selectively recruits students.

The irony is that one of The Movement’s main demands is that not only must Hamilton’s next president be a person of color, but that there is “immediate transparency in the hiring process.” The letter specifically notes:

“We demand the distribution of the minutes from these meetings with applicants. We demand a student lead [sic] forum to ask questions to the final candidates. We demand the review of other colleges hiring practices to have them incorporated into the current system.”

The list is prefaced with a denunciation of tokenism, defined as “the practice of hiring, appointing, or accepting a token number of people from underrepresented groups in order to deflect criticism or comply with affirmative action rules.”

In an apparently contradictory move, The Movement proceeds to make several specific demands regarding the hiring of more faculty members of color and recruitment of students of color.

“We demand an immediate increase in Faculty of Color on campus,” the list states, even more precisely specifying that “We, the Students of Hamilton College, demand Black Faculty to make up 13 percent of Faculty before 2025.” As an added note, The Movement clarifies “this number must exclude members of the Africana Studies Department.”

In addition to hiring more faculty of color, The Movement states: “We, the Students of Hamilton College, demand that white faculty are discouraged from leading departments about demographics and societies colonized, massacred, and enslaved.”

What exactly constitutes “departments about demographics and societies colonized, massacred, and enslaved” is not wholly clear; such vague phrasing could potentially be applied to a wide range of fields.

The Movement did not respond to The Daily Beast’s questions by publication time.

Jake Meserve Blount, a junior at Hamilton, justified this demand, explaining, “It’s important students feel comfortable using those departments as a resource, and it can be hard going to someone who doesn’t share that identifier with you.”

Unfortunately, outside the proverbial college bubble, you will likely have to rely on resources overseen and organized by people who do not share your sex, gender, race, ethnicity or other “identifiers.” You will still have to manage to trust and respect them, despite these differences.

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Blount is not a member of The Movement, but described himself as a student activist and told The Daily Beast he served as a “public, non-anonymous face” for the group.

In regard to the undergraduate population at Hamilton College, The Movement demands “an immediate increase in the admission and recruitment of Students of Color” with the Office of Admissions to specifically focus on visiting “public schools with less than a 30 percent Caucasian student body.”

Students of color are not only the target of increased admission, but increased funding under The Movement’s demands.

For example, not only is there a “demand in the immediate increase in undocumented students,” but also a “demand in the endowment of various scholarship programs to benefit these students.”

The Movement further demands “the immediate institution of free tuition for all Indigenous peoples.”

The list of demands also includes “several financial advisors whose sole purpose is to find and distribute scholarships and financial aid to and for students of color specifically. Including books, travel expenses, medical fees, and others.”

It does not state that an economic need is a requirement for these significant financial benefits.

Many of these demands seem financially extravagant and verging on discrimination against students who are not of color. Other demands devoted to increasing racial, ethnic, and other forms of diversity not only contradict The Movement’s purported critique of affirmative action, but raise red flags about The Movement’s respect for diversity when it comes to diversity of opinions.

“We, the Students of Hamilton College, demand, that the College allocates certain Student Assembly seats for marginalized and underrepresented groups,” the list states.

If specifically demanding that a certain portion of the student government be made of students of colors and other marginalized groups, isn’t that a form of affirmative action (which is to say nothing of larger questions about free elections)?

The Movement also demands compulsory diversity education. Specifically, it demands the “creation of Diversity Intensive (DI) courses,” and “Hamilton Students must complete two of these discussion-based courses with an average of 70 percent or higher.”

There is no consideration for what classes or elements of the current liberal arts curriculum would have to be sacrificed to accommodate this “Diversity Intensive” course mandate.

Moreover, the notion that students are, perhaps, not the best agents for designing a curriculum and making demands about mandatory courses and minimal passing grades does not appear to have crossed The Movement’s mind, or at least not enough of their members’.

Some of the demands reflect a hypersensitivity that would be almost comical if these undergraduates didn’t take them so seriously.

One demand is for the removal of a line on Hamilton College’s diversity page that states: “A student at Hamilton can be grungy, geeky, athletic, gay, black, white, fashionable, artsy, nerdy, preppy, conservative ... it doesn’t really matter. At Hamilton you can be yourself—and be respected for who you are.”

According to The Movement, that line is a “distasteful assertion” that “trivializes the identities and experiences of marginalized groups and will not be tolerated further.”

At certain points, there are malapropisms, such as “Hamilton College must attract diverse and innovative minds of all experiences… We demand the vilification of these forgotten voices.” I think it is safe to assume The Movement meant “vindication.”

Some demands reflect the idealism we have come to expect and praise in college students, like the creation of a Cultural Diversity center and building a statue that pays tribute to “the instrumental role of Oneida Native Americans in the College’s history.” Although one might ask who will foot the bill for these items, they are more than reasonable desires.

But in many of the demands, there is an undercurrent of antagonism toward freedom of speech. The Movement calls for a ban on YikYak, a popular social-media app on college campuses, because it “provides a platform for hate speech inflected with racism, homophobia, islamophobia, transphobia, amongst several other bigotries.”

YikYak can be a forum for hateful speech and even violent claims. A person threatened to go on a racist shooting rampage at the University of Missouri over YikYak.

Still, for students to actively want administrators to interfere with campus wifi to block forums for free speech (which is how Blount described the YikYak banning process) is terrifying in its own way—all the more so because students don’t necessarily see the problem with such restrictions.

In addition to the ban on YikYak, The Movement also demands “the permanent ban of all hate groups from campus.” In demanding this ban, it specifies: “Freedom of speech should not and cannot be used for justification for rampant hateful language or opinions that further marginalizes historically oppressed communities.”

When asked about the free-speech concerns, Blount stressed that he and other students did value the First Amendment. However, he also noted: “At the end of the day, our Constitution exists to protect people from government persecution. Hamilton is a private college. While I think all opinions should be able to be expressed, if you’re making a racist comment about picking cotton, are you saying something that needs to be said?

“If the best defense of saying something is that it isn’t illegal, is it something you should be saying?”

Many would argue, yes, it is, even if it is for the sole purpose of proving freedom of speech is not only for the purpose of protecting polite discourse.

The Movement’s desire to prioritize protection from offense and harm over the freedom to express unpopular, controversial, and dumb views is disconcerting, but Hamilton College is hardly alone.

These demands echo the disconcerting pleas heard at Amherst, Mizzou, Yale and many other universities to restrict freedom of expression in the name of protecting students from insensitive words, arguments, and costumes.

As with many of the schools that have recently seen waves of student outrage, the administration at Hamilton College appears to be treading lightly—even though The Movement’s list of demands includes forcing the college president to endorse specific views—with just 24 hours to contemplate them.

One of the very first demands enumerated is: “We, the Students of Hamilton College, demand that the Office of the President releases an official statement without clause acknowledging that Black Lives Matter. We also demand a statement professing the validity of these demands and the beginning of discussion to implement infrastructure to meet these demands within the next twenty-four hours.”

A little further down, there is the demand that: “President Joan Hinde Stewart issues a formal apology to all Faculty, Students, Staff, and Administrators of Color, as well as their allies, neither of whom were provided a safe space for them to thrive while at Hamilton College.”

What exactly this “safe space” would entail or what exactly Stewart, who is the college’s first female president, did to people of color on campus to necessitate a formal apology is not explained in the demands.

When The Daily Beast reached out to the Hamilton administration, not a single critique was voiced against the demands.

When asked if the college’s president had any concerns about the nature of the demands, including the restriction of free speech and the discouragement of white faculty from holding certain leadership roles, Mike Debraggio, the vice president for communication, simply responded that Stewart did not. “She said we can always do better as a community,” Debraggio told The Daily Beast.

Debraggio said Stewart will be meeting with the students behind The Movement on Wednesday. “She wants to sit down and have a conversation with the students,” he said. “Until she can have a face-to-face with the students, there isn’t a whole lot more that she can say.”

With nearly 2,300 words of demands ranging from limits on free speech to forced political views, one would think that there is a lot more for a college president to say.