Examining racism can lead to ideal free speech climate on campus
- PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel writes in the Washington Post about the inextricable ties between free speech and race dialog on campuses across the country. Nossel says that acknowledging race and racial divisions on campus empowers diverse groups to value free speech, particularly as Hispanic and African American enrollment has grown exponentially over the last 20 years.
- Nossel says that college students have grown up with racial segregation beginning in K-12, and that this division inhibits students from creating diverse friendships on campus. It also permeates the ways curriculum is designed, internships are awarded, and mentoring opportunities are crafted.
- She cites the deaths of college students Heather Heyer in Charlottesville and Richard Collins at Bowie State University as a call for a reexamination of "safe space" not as a haven for identity or ideology, but of physical safety for students. This is in combination with students having a greater understanding of the constitutional details behind protected free speech, and in not using it as a weapon against dissent from minority students.
Free speech, however steeped in political or racial rhetoric it may be, is always going to be weaponized by a side which needs to most accomplish a political objective. Free speech is a core value at the University of California, Berkeley, where decades ago students and faculty used it to launch a national movement of student campus protest in the throes of the civil rights movement. Last month, a free speech commission at the school recommended that university leadership and state government take a stronger role in providing resources to equalize access to controversial ideas and countering ideas, in order to prevent violence surrounding controversial speakers.
Lawmakers in 16 states have either approved or are considering campus free speech legislation, and observers say that in states like Nebraska, Georgia, and Wisconsin, campus and elected officials are working to create policy which can stamp out student demonstrations for racial and cultural equity in higher education spaces. While there may be there may be large gaps between what students view as the value of free speech, and what campus executives determine to be the best approaches for its achievement, presidents will have to approach the topic with care in showing support for all sides of the debate and with political consequences front of mind.
- Washington Post You can only protect campus speech if you acknowledge racism
- UC Berkeley Read the final report of the Chancellor's commission on free speech
- Education Dive Lawmakers propose free speech legislation following a year of campus protests
- Education Dive Free speech or inclusion? New survey finds students want more inclusion
- Education Dive How should college presidents respond to controversial speakers on campus?