Nichol will not halt Sex Workers’ Art Show

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January 28, 2008

2:15 PM

p. The show will go on.

p. College President Gene Nichol released a statement today saying that, despite his personal misgivings, he will not deny an on-campus venue for the Sex Workers’ Art Show, a student-funded event highlighting the experiences of workers in the sex industry.

p. Nichol cited the first amendment in his decision, stating that censoring the show “because administrators disagree with a performance’s content contradicts values residing at the core of the American university.”

p. Printed below is Nichol’s statement.

p. Over the past week, I, and others, have met with the student sponsors of the Sex Workers’ Art Show about their possible determination, voluntarily, to move the program off campus. It is now clear that will not occur.
The Student Assembly has approved funding for the performance – endorsed by almost two dozen student organizations. These students have complied with College policies for making funding
allocations. My views and the views of others in the community about the worth or offensiveness of the program can provide no basis for censoring it.

The First Amendment and the defining traditions of openness that sustain universities are hallmarks of academic inquiry and freedom. It is the speech we disdain that often puts these
principles to the test. The College of William & Mary will not knowingly and intentionally violate the constitutional rights of its students. Censorship has no place at a great university.

There are powerful reasons that colleges have student-funded and student-governed speaker series. They help assure a robust program of expression on campus. Censoring them because
administrators disagree with a performance’s content contradicts values residing at the core of the American university.

Our system’s response to assertedly misguided or inappropriate speech is to rebut it. Members of our community are, of course, free to ignore the Sex Workers’ Art Show and to offer their own exercises in free expression to condemn it.

Like many on campus and beyond, I wish that the show were not coming to the College. But as the editors of the Daily Press wrote days ago, “the last thing you want on a college campus, where
students should be learning to formulate, defend and challenge ideas, is someone on high saying what can and cannot be seen and said.” That is perhaps why this show will, at least according to
the published schedule, appear at Harvard, Duke, Michigan, Indiana, Kenyon, Bard, Wesleyan, California-Davis, Guilford and an array of other universities — in Virginia and across the nation.

Gene Nichol

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