Alice Walker was recently preparing to speak at the 50th anniversary of University of Michigan’s Center for the Education for Women. That was until she received an email from her agent alerting her that the university rescinded their invitation.
Here’s the email Walker’s assistant received from her agent:
I’m saddened to write this because I’m a proponent of free speech and have been brought up to allow everyone to have their say. But I also realize that there are other considerations that institutions are faced with. This afternoon I was contacted by the University of Michigan instructing me to withdraw their invitation due to the removal of funding from the donors, because of their interpretation of Ms. Walker’s comments regarding Israel. They are not willing to fund this program and the university/Women’s center do not have the resources to finance this on their own. They are deeply regretful but I wanted to let you know immediately either way. I hope you can appreciate the fact that I’m uncomfortable even having to send this email in the first place. Hopefully we can work together again down the road. Thanks for understanding. I wish things had turned out differently.
In recent years, Walker has been outspoken in regards to her views on Israel, and has never been one to bite her tongue. Even after posting a piece about Walker’s issue with Alicia Keys performing in Israel, I was personally inundated with emails from an organization that consists of entertainment executives who are pro-Israel refuting Walker’s claims.
In response to Walker’s allegations, the director of the Center for the Education of Women attempted to add clarity to the situation. Gloria Thomas denied that donors had any bearing on the decision.
“I want to apologize for how we handled our invitation to author Alice Walker to speak to the Center for the Education of Women. Upon further research, I decided to withdraw our invitation because I did not think Ms. Walker would be the optimum choice for the celebratory nature of our 50th anniversary event. Donors had no bearing on this decision. Our 50th anniversary funding is completely assured. All donations, for this and other events, are accepted with no provisos or prohibitions regarding free speech. As we move forward, I do hope that we will be able to co-sponsor a lecture by Ms. Walker, where the forum would be focused on a more substantial discussion of human rights issues.”
In her own blog post titled, “Why Women Need Their Own Money”, Walker offered her thanks to the university for being brave enough to consider her:
I so appreciate the tone of the agent’s letter, alerting my assistant and me to this situation. It isn’t hard to imagine how he feels, having been so enthusiastic about getting me to come to help the women celebrate a major milestone in their many struggles for education and equality. But there is a bright side: Such behavior, as evidenced by the donors, teaches us our weakness, which should eventually (and soon) show us our strength: women must be in control of our own finances. Not just in the family, but in the schools, work force, and everywhere else. Until we control this part of our lives, our very choices, in any and every area, can be denied us.
I am bone weary of travel, after over half a century of doing it, so I don’t regret not getting on another plane and being x-rayed coming and going, and occasionally being patted down as if I’m hiding something under my blouse, but I am sorry to miss this joyful sounding gathering of women (and men) who are without doubt some of the best our country has to offer.
If you should read this, people of the invitation, know I send you my love, and my understanding, without reservation. I thought you were brave to invite me, and I cherish you for that. Whatever the truth is, that is what will always be. It cannot be hidden forever, nor can it be kept from even the smallest child, indefinitely.