Hampshire College in western Massachusetts raised eyebrows this Halloween when it canceled a campus performance by an Afrobeat band, Shokazoba, after students complained that the band was engaged in hurtful “cultural appropriation” because its members were insufficiently dark-skinned. It so pained me to have to read stories like that in 2013 that I took to the pages of The Boston Herald to draw attention to this nigh-unbelievable situation.
Thankfully, FIRE is not the only organization that was concerned about making comfort (in this case, to the extent that it creates de facto racial requirements) a necessity for engaging in expression on Hampshire’s campus. Fred Contrada of Springfield, Massachusetts’ The Republican noted late last week that the ACLU of Massachusetts would also like to hear from Hampshire College that this kind of censorship is not acceptable. William Newman, director of the ACLU of Massachusetts’ Western Regional office, penned a letter to Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash, writing:
Invocation of “I am fearful” or “I am uncomfortable” or “cultural appropriation”, as shibboleths that warrant censorship, results improperly and dangerously in the prohibition of artistic (and other) expression. That is the antithesis of freedom of speech, expression and inquiry which are at the core of the First Amendment and should constitute foundational principles of a liberal arts institution.
Well said. If President Lash wishes Hampshire College to be taken seriously as a liberal arts institution, he’d be wise to respond by condemning censorship on campus, regardless of whether students are offended by “cultural appropriation” or not.
Used with the permission of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.