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Zachary R. Wood

Former President of Uncomfortable Learning at Williams College, author of Uncensored, and free speech advocate

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  • About Zachary R. Wood

    Zachary R. Wood is known for his dynamic perspective on free speech, race, and dissenting opinions. Wood entered the national spotlight while a senior at Williams College, where he acted as president of the student group Uncomfortable Learning. Wood strengthened the groups commitment to inviting speakers with controversial perspectives to speak freely on the college’s campus. Wood is an activist for free speech and a firm believer that civil debate is a crucial part of one’s education. He recently testified before the United States Senate on the necessity of ensuring that college campuses allow for a variety of viewpoints.

    Through his work with Uncomfortable Learning, Wood found himself at the center of numerous campus controversies, many of which have turned into national news stories. When he invited former National Review columnist John Derbyshire to speak, Wood found himself accused of racism by his fellow classmates and the event was canceled by the administration. In the aftermath, there was extensive press coverage of Wood and his work with Uncomfortable Learning, including features in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Time, and The Huffington Post. This brought widespread attention to the issue of campus censorship and cemented Wood’s conviction that engaging with an opposing perspective is a catalyst for truly meaningful education.

    Now, Wood is taking his message beyond his college campus, and is sharing the details of his own personal story and how his own experiences inspired him to be a crusader for open dialogue and free speech. His memoir, Uncensored, tells the story of his troubled upbringing, from a difficult early childhood filled with pain, uncertainty, and conflict to the struggles of code-switching between his home in a rough neighborhood and his elite private school. Arguing for a new way of interacting with each other in this deeply polarized society, Wood has cemented his position as a deeply necessary voice—not just at Williams College, but for his generation. Wood was a former Robert L. Bentley Fellow at The Wall Street Journal, and graduated from Williams in the spring of 2018 as a Herbert H. Lehman Scholar with a degree in political science. He currently works as an Assistant Opinion Editor of The Guardian.

    Visit Zachary Wood’s Company Reads page to discover how he can show your organization why difficult conversations matter, and how to facilitate them.

  • Speaking Topics

    Uncensored: How a Progressive College Student Began Fighting for Conservative Viewpoints

    How does a self-described "liberal progressive" end up fighting for the right to host conservative speakers on his college campus? In recounting how the ability to communicate and engage with a broad array of people led him from a troubled neighborhood in Washington D.C. to an elite private high school and eventually, Williams College, Wood makes the case that in a divided time it is more important than ever for people of all backgrounds and viewpoints to interact.

    From the Front Lines of Free Speech

    During his time at Williams College, Zachary Wood brought numerous controversial speakers to campus as the president of Uncomfortable Learning. Wood details the backlash he received surrounding these events from students and administrators alike, and models what an ideal event with a controversial speaker should look like, equipping listeners to host and debate with people of all perspectives.

    Race & Student Activism in Higher Education

    For many individuals, including Zachary Wood, the fight against racism is deeply personal. In this talk, Wood draws on his experiences to assess the true state of anti-racist activism. He presents the resounding successes and opportunities for improvement of these movements and provides a blueprint for audiences wishing to productively discuss race going forward.

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  • Praise for Zachary R. Wood

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    Zachary’s visit was wonderful. He is the consummate professional and a true inspiration! I think he was a perfect choice for this event; most of our students (and probably their parents and some faculty, too) could see themselves in his story. He was thoughtful, eloquent and genuine – everything you could want in a speaker, amazing for someone as young as 22! One of the students asked if he planned to run for President and he said he hoped to, which led to rousing cheers. You could say he’s got a new legion of fans at Church Farm School and I hope there are ways we might engage him again in the future.

    Church Farm School

    Praise for Uncensored

    Wood elevates the approach to difficult conversations and dialog, succeeding in helping people overcome indifference. A must-read for young social activists, free speech crusaders, and fans of inspirational memoirs.

    Library Journal

    Wood writes movingly about the debilitating effects of racism and poverty…A singular voice that, as Wood would say, you may not agree with but to which you at least have to listen.

    Booklist

    Uncensored is inspired. Zachary Wood is an American hero for standing up on the front line of the fight for free speech on college campuses. This young, black man who has overcome so much in his life, tells an incredible story of crossing political lines in search of honest debate.

    Juan Williams, author of Eyes on the Prize and political analyst for Fox News

    Zachary Wood’s story is wrenchingly honest and compelling, a triumph of discipline and resilience, with useful lessons for us all. His willingness to confront opposing views and engage ideological adversaries is brave and important at a time when political polarization is challenging our national strength.

    Ambassador Susan E. Rice, author of Confronting Poverty

    It is difficult to know what is more amazing, the fact that a 21-year-old is publishing a memoir of his life, the fact that he indeed has a life and a complicated one to narrate, the fact that out of hardscrabble beginnings he has fashioned a present full of accomplishment and promises a future that the reader soon comes to believe in. He thinks he will be president of the United States. I wouldn’t bet against him.

    Stanley Fish, New York Times bestselling author of How to Write a Sentence

    A spectacular debut from an impressive individual who has already been and will continue to be a force for the good and for the Republic. Republicans and Democrats alike can learn something from Zachary Wood’s story, and it may not be what you expect to learn. Mr. Wood, I suspect, would be more than happy with that.

    Allison Stanger, Russell J. Leng ’60 Professor of International Politics and Economics at Middlebury College

    Candid, passionate, disturbing, and judicious, Zachary Wood’s Uncensoredtraces a young man’s odyssey through the challenges and affirmations of family life, academic institutions, and campus controversies.  Ambitious and altruistic, admired and maligned, driven yet self-reflective, Wood examines and celebrates the sense of calling that informs his prodigious energy and talent.  Uncensored is an honest, compelling, and unforgettable book.

    David Lionel Smith, John W. Chandler Professor of English, Williams College

    There is nothing predictable or even familiar about this astonishing memoir by Zachary Wood, despite its components of race and class. It’s a work alternately harrowing and exhilarating in its unflinching detail of survival – its picture of a child waking in daily fear wondering what the day with his mentally ill mother will bring. The exhilaration comes with Mr. Wood’s sterling command of his narrative, which is impossible to put down once begun. Its author began reading  at a very early age and never stopped. His story is, in addition to all else, profound and eloquent testimony to books and reading and their power to make a life.

    Dorothy Rabinowitz, author of No Crueler Tyrannies
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