Free Speech on Campus: Cronkite Must-See-Monday Event

By: Lindsey Clinkingbeard

February 2017

“Speech on Campus” Must-See-Monday event, moderated by Cronkite Professor Joseph Russomanno, featured two speakers from separate private colleges. Both schools had recently experienced backlash from students regarding protests and free speech on campus. The interview, recorded by Arizona PBS, focused on communication as a useful and powerful tool to be used.

Lucia Valdivia is an Assistant Professor of English and Humanities at Reed College.  She discussed how students have begun to fight institutional racism in class during lectures.

Audience members shook their heads as Valdivia discussed the criticism received from students who were campaigning visually against certain texts they were teaching, such as Aristotle.

“Especially with the election of Donald Trump, there has been a sense of disempowerment and dramatic change among students,” Valdivia said. “And I think anger can be misdirected sometimes,” she said.

Allison Stanger, a Professor of International Politics and Economics at Middlebury College, discussed how students are angry about “perceived injustices in our justice system.”

“There is a parallel dynamic of extremism on both sides, fighting fire with fire. And that’s very sad for me because that goes against constitutional democracy, where we can debate issues and agree to mutually disagree,” Stanger said.

The first amendment was also a topic discussed widely between the two professors. Valdivia openly discussed her childhood upbringing in Peru, where she said others were killed “for using their words.” When it comes to free speech, Valdivia said that there is a place for everyone.

“There is a time, and a place, and a platform. That does not include silencing other people,” Valdivia said.

Stanger added how freedom of speech only “increases democracy.” Stanger emphasized the role of the university is to teach students how to “allow reason to prevail… [and] to harness reason to bring about change,” she said.

Stanger says this means addressing the civic education crisis in grades k-12 here in America, where she says the majority of students are coming to college without a proper context of the first amendment or constitutional rights.

Russomanno asked both professors how they are addressing the speech in their classrooms. Valdivia responded by saying that she leads by example.

“I think in the classroom, I have to teach the deeper meaning of words,” she said. “Teach students how to fight back with words. How to knock back the assumptions and ask the tough questions. This is useful in fighting for social justice. Having a great argument technique is going to serve you well. Knowing how to reason and argue is important,” Valdivia said. She added that being mindful and training yourself to listen before responding is important.

Valdivia said that trying to get people to think objectively about the principles, that will encourage better conversation. But there is one thing she made very clear.

“Once you start censoring, it is a very slippery slope.”










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