“UNCENSORED”: A VIEW FROM INSIDE AMERICA’S COLLEGES

Encore: November 20, 2020

Race, poverty, abuse and the possibility of dissent in higher education. Author Zachary wood, gives us an “Uncensored” look at where they all intersect on campus in America.

For more information, click here. 

Aired on May 3, 2019 and August 4, 2020. 

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Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.

TRANSCRIPT

> HAS PUBLIC DISCOURSE IN OUR COUNTRY BECOME A SERIES OF IDEOLOGICAL ECHO CHAMBERS?

TUNE IN CABLE NEWS AND IT'S HARD NOT TO COME TO THAT CONCLUSION.

VISIT AN ELITE COLLEGE CAMPUS AND THAT IMPRESSION CAN BE EACH MORE ACUTE.

IN 2016 ZACHARY WOOD FOUND HIMSELF AT THE CENTER OF POLITICAL STORM WHEN AS AN UNDERGRADUATE AT WILLIAMS COLLEGE HE INVITED A SERIES OF CONTROVERSIAL CONSERVATIVE SPEAKERS TO THE PREDOMINANTLY LIBERAL CAMPUS TO THEIR THEIR VIEWS.

WOOD FACED IMMEDIATE BLOW BACK FROM HIS PEERS, FACULTY AND THE ADMINISTRATION BUT REMAINED UNDETERRED.

IN FACT, HE BECAME A CHAMPION NOT SIMPLY OF FREE SPEECH BUT OF THE FUNDAMENTAL PROPOSITION THAT WE MUST ACTIVELY ENGAGE WITH IDEAS AND BELIEFS THAT WE FIND DISAGREEABLE AND EVEN OFFENSIVE.

WOOD GRADUATED FROM WILLIAMS LAST YEAR AND NOW AT 22 HE HAS WRITTEN A MEMOIRE TITLED 'UNCENSORED: MY LIFE AND UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS AT THE INTERSECTION OF BLACK AND WHITE AMERICA.'

HE JOINS US NOW AS PART OF OUR CHASING THE DREAM INITIATIVE WHICH FOCUSES ON POVERTY AND OPPORTUNITY IN AMERICA.

ZACH, THANKS FOR COMING ON THIS SHOW.

IT'S AN HONOR TO HAVE YOU HERE.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

GLAD TO BE HERE.

A PUBLISHED MEMOIRE WRITTEN BY A 22-YEAR-OLD AUTHOR, THAT'S NOT SOMETHING YOU SEE EVERY DAY.

HOW DID THIS ONE HAPPEN?

YOU JUST SNAP YOUR FINGERS AND WISH.

YEAH, SURE.

YOU KNOW, I WAS FORTUNATE TO GROW UP IN A FAMILY OF EDUCATORS, TO HAVE A MOTHER AND GRANDMOTHER WHO PLACED HIGH VALUE ON READING AND LEARNING AND SO MY LOVE OF READING EVENTUALLY LED TO A LOVE OF WRITING.

SO I HAD ALWAYS HAD THIS INTEREST IN WRITING, EXPRESSING MY OWN VIEWS AND THOUGHTS ON ISSUES THAT I WAS INTERESTED IN AND WHEN I GOT TO WILLIAMS COLLEGE I DECIDED THAT I WANTED TO CONTRIBUTE TO PUBLIC DISCOURSE AND SO THAT FOR ME MEANT WRITING OP-EDS.

I WAS FORTUNATE TO HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO WRITE AN OP-ED FOR THE 'WASHINGTON POST' EXPLAINING SOME OF THE CHALLENGES THAT LOW INCOME AND FIRST GENERATION STUDENTS FACE WHEN THEY GO HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS AND THAT THEN LED TO THE OPPORTUNITY FOR ME TO SHARE MY STORY.

YOU BECAME NATIONALLY KNOWN AT LEAST IN ACADEMIC AND POLITICAL CIRCLES BECAUSE OF WHAT YOU DID AT WILLIAMS, BRINGING IN THOSE COULDN'T VERSE CONSERVATIVE AUTHORS LIKE CHARLES MURRAY, RACIALIST JOHN DERBYSHIRE AND A SELF--DESCRIBED ANTI-FEMINIST BUT AT LEAST THREE QUARTERS OF THE BOOK IS WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU BEFORE THEN.

EXACTLY.

WHY?

SO FOR ME IN WRITING THIS I WAS THINKING ABOUT WHAT ARE THE EXPERIENCES THAT HAVE SHAPED WHO I AM?

AND ONE OF THE BIGGEST INFLUENCES IN MY LIFE WAS MY MOTHER.

SURE.

AND SO THE FIRST THIRD OF THE BOOK IS ABOUT MY EXPERIENCE WITH HER.

ANOTHER MAJOR INFLUENCE WAS MY FATHER WHO FROM WHOM I'VE LEARNED MANY VALUABLE LESSONS SO THAT'S THE SECOND THIRD OF THE BOOK AND THEN THE LAST THIRD IS ABOUT MY TIME AT WILLIAMS AND HOW ALL OF THAT KIND OF COMES TOGETHER AS I BECOME A PUBLIC ADVOCATE FOR VIEWPOINT UNIVERSITY.

LET'S TALK ABOUT YOUR MOTHER BECAUSE SHE IS TRULY A PROMINENT CHARACTER IN THE BOOK AND I WOULD SAY THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN YOUR LIFE, YOUR EARLY LIFE.

TALK ABOUT THAT RELATIONSHIP AND HOW IT AFFECTED YOU.

I ALWAYS KNEW THAT MY MOTHER LOVED MY DEARLY.

I KNEW THAT SHE WANTED TO GIVE ME THE BEST, AT THE SAME TIME I KNEW THAT OUR RELATIONSHIP WAS CHALLENGING AND COMPLICATED AND AT SIX OR SEVEN YEARS OLD YOU DON'T REALLY UNDERSTAND WHAT MENTAL ILLNESS IS, BUT MY MOTHER HAD CITIZEN ZERO EFFECTIVE DISORDER, A COMBINATION OF BIPOLAR AND SCHIZOPHRENIA.

ON A DAY TO DAY BASIS I HAD TO NEGOTIATE AND TRY TO DISCERN WAS TODAY GOING TO BE A GOOD OR BAD DAY.

HOW WAS I GOING TO RESPOND TO PARANOID DELUSIONS AND TO HALLUCINATIONS AND MOOD SWINGS, HOW WAS I GOING TO DEAL WITH HER RAGE AND HER ANGER.

SO IT FORCED ME TO BE MORE EMPATHETIC AND COMPASSIONATE AT AN EARLY AGE.

WHY DID YOU THINK IT WAS IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO BRING IN WRITERS TO WILLIAMS WHO WERE CONSIDERED HOMOPHOBIC, XENOPHOBIC, YOU NAME IT, HATE -- HATEFUL WRITERS?

WHERE DID YOU THINK IT WAS IMPORTANT TO BRING THEM?

MY MOM RAISED ME TO BELIEVE THAT SELF-UNDERSTANDING IS VERY IMPORTANT, SELF-KNOWLEDGE IS VERY IMPORTANT, EQUALLY IMPORTANT IS HAVING A KIND OF STEADFAST COMMITMENT, DEVELOPING A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF HUMANITY.

FOR ME THAT MEANT I HAD TO UNDERSTAND NOT JUST THE VIEWS AND VALUES THAT I ADMIRE, BUT ALSO THE VIEWS AND VALUES THAT I DETEST, THE VIEWS AND VALUES THAT I HOPE TO RESIST, THAT I HOPE TO CHANGE.

YOU HAVE TO ENGAGE WITH THEM.

AND YOU CAN'T JUST ENGAGE IN A MODE OF THIS HAS TO BE AN ADVERSARIAL KIND OF INTERACTION.

YOU CAN LEAD WITH QUESTIONS, IT OPENS UP POSSIBILITIES FOR YOU TO FIND COMMON GROUND.

SO FOR ME I THOUGHT THAT BRINGING THESE SPEAKERS WOULD HELP ME BE A BETTER CHANGE AGENT ONE DAY.

WHAT WERE THE MOST CONVINCING ARGUMENTS THAT YOUR PEERS TOLD YOU AS TO WHY THESE SPEAKERS SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN INVITED?

ONE OF THE MOST COMPELLING ARGU ARGUMENTS, COUNTERARGUMENTS TO THE WORK I WAS DOING WAS THAT IT WAS ALREADY DIFFICULT ENOUGH TO BE A MINORITY ON CAMPUS, IT WAS ALREADY DIFFICULT ENOUGH TO BE A POOR STUDENT AT AN ELITE INSTITUTION WHERE THE MAJORITY OF THE STUDENT BODY WAS FAIRLY AFFLUENT.

THERE ARE ALREADY ENOUGH CHALLENGES, OBSTACLES.

MICRO AGGRESSIONS.

TO HAVE TO THEN BRING IN A SPEAKER ON TOP OF THOSE THINGS THAT YOU HAVE TO DEAL WITH AND INTERACTIONS WITH YOUR PEERS IN THE DORMS AND DINING HALLS AND IN CLASSES, TO HAVE SOMEONE WHO IS ESPOUSING AND SAYING THINGS THAT ARE DEEPLY DISTURBING, THAT ARE FUNDAMENTALLY UNSETTLING, THAT QUESTION THE WAY IN WHICH YOU IDENTIFY AND VIEW YOURSELF --

BUT YOU DIDN'T LISTEN TO THAT.

WHAT ABOUT THE ARGUMENT THAT YOU WERE LEGITIMIZING.

THAT WAS THE OTHER PART OF IT.

BY GIVING THEM A PLATFORM YOU WERE ENDORSING WHAT THEY WERE SAYING.

INTO I APPROACH WAS THIS, THERE ARE COSTS AND BENEFITS WHENEVER YOU ARE DOING SOMETHING THAT ERTS MA.

WHENEVER YOU ARE ENGAGED WITH AN ISSUE OR A TOPIC THAT TRULY IS WORTH DISCUSSING THERE ARE GOING TO BE CHALLENGES, THERE ARE GOING TO BE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES TO HAVING TOUGH CONVERSATIONS TO TAKING MEASURES TO ACHIEVE CHANGE.

I THOUGHT THAT THERE WAS A POTENTIAL FOR THE BENEFITS TO OUTWEIGH --

IS THERE A SPEAK OR TYPE OF DISCOURSE THAT EVEN YOU WOULD SAY WE CAN'T GIVE THIS A PLATFORM?

ABSOLUTELY.

WHERE IS THAT LINE?

SO FOR ME IF THE SPEAKER IS NOT INTELLECTUALLY SERIOUS WHICH IS TO SAY THEY BELIEVE IN WHAT THEY'RE SAYING AND THEY BELIEVE THAT THE WORLD IS BETTER FOR IT, NOT IF I DO, BUT IF THEY DO, AND IF WHAT THEY'RE SAYING IS IS NOT SOCIALLY RELEVANT.

PRESIDENT TRUMP RECENTLY ANNOUNCED THAT HE WOULD SIGN AN EXECUTIVE ORDER THREATENING TO CUT OFF FEDERAL FUNDING FOR UNIVERSITIES THAT PROHIBIT FREEDOM OF SPEECH THE WAY HE SEES IT.

DO YOU THINK THAT'S A GOOD IDEA?

I THINK THAT'S A BAD IDEA.

I THINK THAT'S A BLUNT INSTRUMENT.

WITH HE WANT TO INN WITH THE ARGUMENT.

WE WANT THE IDEAS TO PREVAIL.

WE WANT TO PERSUADE PEOPLE THAT THIS IS WHY FREE SPEECH MATTERS.

THIS IS NOT AN INSTANCE IN WHICH YOU WANT TO USE FORCE BECAUSE THAT OPENS UP --

IT'S COUNTERPRODUCTIVE.

ABSOLUTELY AND SETS A DANGEROUS PRECEDENT.

SO YOU TOLD YOUR PEERS WHEN YOU WERE IN COLLEGE THAT YOUR ULTIMATELY GOAL WAS TO BECOME PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.

YES, I DID.

IS THAT STILL THE CASE?

THAT IS STILL THE CASE.

I HOPE TO BE A PUBLIC SERVANT ONE DAY.

I AM INTERESTED IN PEOPLE, I'M INTERESTED IN PEOPLE'S STORIES, HELPING PEOPLE HAVE BETTER STORIES AND I CARE ABOUT THE ISSUES.

ALL RIGHT.

ZACH, I WISH WE HAD MORE TIME.

IT WAS A FANTASTIC BOOK, I REALLY RECOMMEND EVERYONE TO READ IT, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US TODAY.

ABSOLUTELY.

THANK YOU.

Funders

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