The president of prestigious Smith College is red-faced and apologetic Tuesday for telling students on the Northampton, Mass., campus that "all lives matter."

Kathleen McCartney wrote the phrase in the subject line of an e-mail to students at the school, whose alumni include feminists Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, former First Lady Nancy Reagan and celebrity chef Julia Child. McCartney was attempting to show support for students protesting racially charged grand jury decisions in which police in Missouri and New York were not charged in the deaths of unarmed black men.

Protesters have adopted several slogans in connection with the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, including "Black Lives Matter." McCartney's more inclusive version of the refrain was seen as an affront that diminished the focus on black lives and racism, according to emails obtained by FoxNews.com.

“We are united in our insistence that all lives matter,” read the e-mail,in which she made clear she was strongly behind the protests, writing that the grand jury decisions had “led to a shared fury… We gather in vigil, we raise our voices in protest.”

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But she soon received backlash from students for her phrasing. They were offended that she did not stick with the slogan “black lives matter.”

The Daily Hampshire Gazette, which first covered the story, quoted one Smith sophomore, Cecelia Lim, as saying, “it felt like she was invalidating the experience of black lives.”

In response to student backlash, McCartney apologized in another campus-wide email Friday, saying she had made a mistake “despite my best intentions.” 

She wrote that the problem with the phrase lay in how others had used it.

“I regret that I was unaware the phrase/hashtag “all lives matter” has been used by some to draw attention away from the focus on institutional violence against Black people,” she wrote.

In her apology e-mail, McCartney also shared some of the student emails she received.

She quoted one student as saying: “It minimizes the anti-blackness of this the current situation; yes, all lives matter, but not all lives are being targeted for police brutality. The black students at this school deserve to have their specific struggles and pain recognized, not dissolved into the larger student body."

Some who follow campus issues say that the idea of apologizing for saying “all lives matter” shows political correctness is out of control.

"It’s getting increasingly difficult to figure out what you can say on the modern campus, even for university presidents… Too many of today’s students want freedom from speech rather than freedom of speech,” Greg Lukianoff, President of Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and author of “Freedom From Speech” told FoxNews.com.

Smith College did not respond to a request for comment on the criticisms, but noted that the body of her emails is on the Smith website.

The issue is a problem at colleges around the country, Lukianoff said. He noted that Columbia Law School recently allowed students to postpone final exams if they felt they had experienced emotional trauma. The University of Hawaii, meanwhile, recently prohibited students from handing out the U.S. Constitution in most areas of campus, and only reversed course after being sued in court.

He added that such an atmosphere hinders learning at colleges.

“It’s hard to challenge minds while walking on eggshells,” he said.

The author, Maxim Lott, can be reached via maximlott.com or at maxim.lott@foxnews.com.