October 18, 2016
I’d like to think some good can come from the peculiarly vulgar political and social environment we are experiencing.
It is Free Speech Week, an opportunity to celebrate the importance of a cherished right. As President Assanis stated in his letter in The Review today, it is imperative to prepare students to interact with a diverse range of ideas and thoughts. As educators, we must engage students to consider why it is important to protect freedom of expression, perhaps especially for ideas we find deeply offensive.
But we must also acknowledge that freedom of expression isn’t free. While our society generally focuses on the costs associated with restricting expression – which are undoubtedly high – we do not often acknowledge there is a cost associated with allowing expression, too. And that cost is frequently borne by groups who are already marginalized.
In the remainder of this letter, you will find links to resources available to spark discussion about the tensions between free speech and hate speech, should you choose to bring these issues into your interactions with students in or out of the classroom. There are also resources about ways in which various groups and cultures aim to resolve these tensions.
Between the tenor of our current presidential campaign, and the upcoming campus visit of an alt-right performer on October 24th, tensions are running high. Some students and alumni are petitioning against the decision to allow the 10/24 event to occur. Others suggest that petitions like this reflect merely a misguided attempt to squelch expression with which they disagree.
Students are eager to talk about what is happening. This moment affords us an opportunity as faculty to engage students in productive and nuanced discussions about freedom of expression, and to encourage them to respond thoughtfully to people who seek to provoke.
- For your information, there will be a student-organized counter event on October 24.
- Library personnel have worked with faculty and staff to develop a research guide with relevant resources, including:
- International approaches to balancing hate speech vs. free speech
- Why it is important to protect freedom of expression, even for hate speech
- Groups that are combatting hate, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, UNESCO,
the Anti-Defamation League, and the United Nations #SpreadNoHate movement
- Groups that are targeting cyberbullying in particular, including the Tyler Clementi foundation.
- The Center for Teaching & Assessment of Learning also maintains a resource page to encourage inclusive teaching strategies.
- Since spring 2015, a group of faculty and staff have been coordinating programming each semester about the tensions between free speech and hate speech. With funding from the Vice Provost for Diversity’s office, we have hosted speakers, discussed case studies about hate speech on social media, and held trainings for campus leaders about how to have productive discussions about difficult and divisive topics. This regular programming will continue, should you wish to work these events in to future classes. For information about upcoming programming, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jennifer (Jenny) Lambe
Associate Professor, Dept. of Communication
Senior Fellow, Center for Political Communication