University Refuses To Recognize ‘Students For Free Thought’

ashley.rae | May 23, 2017
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Lawrence University has denied official recognition to the Students for Free Thought student group following reports that a student, who called her peers “white terrorists on training wheels," had been kicked out of an event for being disruptive. While the school won't specify who filed the "bias reports," university officials said they are investigating the incident.

The Lawrentian, Lawrence University’s student publication, reports the Students for Free Thought group on campus hosted a showing of the 2015 film “Can We Take a Joke” on May 17. The day before the event, Kimberly Barrett, the school’s vice president for Diversity and Inclusion and associate dean of the faculty, sent an email encouraging students and community members to view the film and have an “authentic discussion” over the content.

Despite the call for rational discussion, during the screening, a “heated dispute” reportedly took place among the audience members. According to the Lawrentian, one student was asked to leave for being disruptive. Barrett intervened, saying, “We have people with opposing views, let’s talk about what those views might have been, and let’s do it in a way that we’re talking one at a time.”

Attendees at the discussion after the film decried free speech.

One student claimed minorities in the United States are not afforded free speech and that it is only a “privilege” for some.

The student was reported as saying, “The idea of the culture of free speech is an incredibly privileged one. The reality of our society and the systemic oppression is that people of color and women of this country aren’t allowed free speech because if they talk a certain way, bad things happen to them.”

Another student, identified as “they,” said, “Free speech exists, yes, however you have to recognize that there has been systematic oppression against certain groups of people. If you want to have these events in the future, you should talk to the people who were being attacked in the movie.”

In a letter to the editor, Sabrina Conteh, the student who was allegedly asked to leave, decried event attendees as white nationalists, white supremacists, and “white terrorists on training wheels.”

According to Conteh, the “sloppy white supremacist propaganda screening” was actually a “hotbed for rape jokes, racial and gender slurs” and propagated by “white terrorists on training wheels.” She accused free speech of supporting “white nationalist rhetoric” and said the head of the organization putting on the talk was a “head white nationalist in charge.”

A day after Conteh’s piece, Lawrence University issued a statement addressing the matter.

According to the statement by Barrett, the school received “several bias incident reports” about the incident between Conteh and the other member of the audience. The statement claims, “Each of these reports will be reviewed and acted upon,” and that the Lawrence University Community Council will take these reports into consideration when determining whether to officially recognize the Students for Free Thought.


WBAY reports the LUCC ultimately decided, shortly after the letter from Barrett, to deny recognition to the Students for Free Thought.

An email from LUCC President Lewis Berger said the group was ultimately denied recognition because the LUCC did not believe it would have a “positive impact on the Lawrence University campus” and would jeopardize the “well-being of our campus at large.”

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