07/14/17

Statement Regarding Trinity College Decision to Retain Professor After Social Media Controversy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 14, 2017

CONTACT: Meghan Smith, 860-992-7645, msmith@acluct.org  

In a report released today, Trinity College announced that Professor Johnny Williams did not violate school policies when he posted several provocative comments and shared a controversial hashtag and link on his personal Facebook page. The following reaction is attributable to David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut:

“We commend Trinity College’s decision to uphold free speech in the face of controversy. We understand the deep concerns expressed over Professor Williams’s Facebook posts. In the face of today’s polarized climate, it is vital for universities to maintain equitable learning environments for all students, while upholding the free expression of students and faculty alike.

This incident was fundamentally about a professor’s ability to freely express his political views on his personal social media page. It is clear that Professor Williams was not attempting to incite violence or making individualized threats, and it does not appear that he was discriminating against students in the classroom. The response to his posts has also shown that many people have conflated Professor Williams’s own words with those included in a blog post to which he linked.

While there may be better ways to draw attention to the very real problem of white supremacy, Professor Williams’s choices to use an offensive hashtag, link to a controversial article, and express his political views on his personal Facebook page were protected free speech.

Colleges and universities do not have to be passive in the face of controversial speech. We are heartened that Trinity College has noted its intent to continue broader campus conversations about free speech and the racial and political divides that split our nation.”