In fact, I would wager that none of the signatories would urge this same approach if they were teaching at a different institution where their world views did not enjoy a place of privilege.
Consider the implications of their approach.
Most curiously, their email denounces the hypothesis that men are more equipped than women to excel in STEM fields—and “similar arguments pertaining to race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, and other identity markers”—only to embrace the implicit assumption that women (the identity marker germane to the Kipnis controversy) are somehow unequipped to hear critiques of Title IX, so much so that a talk given by a dissident feminist will predictably cause “distress,” “damage,” and “injury.”
This is pernicious nonsense that smacks of long discredited sexist stereotypes. Wellesley women are formidable. They can get through a Laura Kipnis lecture unharmed.
Second, it is preposterous to imply that Kipnis’s ideas are an attack on the humanity of students, requiring them to rebut her “in order to affirm their humanity,” as if she has ever argued that any subset of Wellesley women are subhuman. That formulation adds unearned rhetorical heft; it is totally inaccurate.
What’s more, the notion that college students are “injured” by the work of formulating rebuttals to arguments that strike them as wrongheaded or offensive is backwards. Such work is the surest way to acquire a superlatively empowering skill.
Such work is core to a residential college’s learning model.
And so, the faculty members err again when declaring that such work is “not optional.” Every day, on college campuses throughout the United States, speakers assert beliefs or arguments that many students regard as deeply wrongheaded.
For better or worse, the vast majority opt to forgo any further action.
A reality so obvious can only be lost on faculty members and students who so rarely encounter views on campus with which they profoundly disagree that they can conceive of having time to rebut them all. Talk to an orthodox Christian or Jew or a devout Muslim at a secular college, or a conservative or libertarian at an Ivy League college, or a radical feminist at Hillsdale College or Liberty University. You’ll find that even the few who speak up in defense of their values or identity with relative frequency nevertheless opt to let many things pass in the course of four years, including scores if not hundreds of speeches that they simply do not attend.
The canard such a commonplace is not possible can only overburden Wellesley’s most over-scrupulous young minds. Let them abide some things they cannot change.
As to the premise that a student’s feeling of distress must not be questioned and that ideas likely to cause distress to students should be preemptively kept off campus, I find it hard to believe the signatories would adhere to their own standards. Surely Hillary Clinton, the most famous Wellesley alumna, has the capacity, on her occasional visits to her alma mater, to say some things that cause distress to, say, an international student from a Muslim country, who might object to Clinton’s support for drone strikes, sanctions, repressive dictators, and military invasions. If some students preemptively claimed distress would that be reason to never ask her back?