Free Speech: Challenge of Our Times — Allison Stanger and Lucia Martinez Valdivia

In March 2017, Middlebury College professor Allison Stanger was seriously injured when protesters, angry with a speaker whose views they opposed, turned violent. Professor Stanger was there to verbally challenge the speaker. She never got the chance, and the invited speaker never spoke.

This incident stands out among several in which speakers invited to campuses were denied the right to speak by protesters or merely by threats of violence. “Political life and discourse in the United States is at a boiling point,” says Professor Stanger, “and nowhere is the reaction to that more heightened than on college campuses.”

Last year, at Reed College in Oregon, a group of students began protesting three times a week in a required first-year humanities course, objecting to course content and condemning Reed faculty for perpetuating discourse that the students saw as anti-black and closed off to dialogue and criticism.

In her October Washington Post op-ed, Reed Professor Lucia Martinez Valdivia, who lectured during these protests, wrote, “In the face of intimidation, educators must speak up, not shut down. Ours is a position of unique responsibility: We teach people not what to think, but how to think.”

In “Speech on Campus: When Protests Turn Extreme,” Stanger and Valdivia discuss what led to the protests on their campuses. Why did Middlebury agree to host such a controversial speaker? What has been learned from these incidents? What are the limits of free speech protection for both speakers and protesters? How can other colleges and universities deal with the challenge of providing platforms for the exchange of ideas while also securing public safety? Have Americans lost the ability to disagree peacefully? As Stanger wrote, “Our constitutional democracy will depend on whether Americans can relearn how to engage civilly with one another.”

Moderated by Cronkite School Professor Joseph Russommano.

This event is another in the “Free Speech and Intellectual Diversity in Higher Education and American Society” series sponsored by the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership and co-sponsored by the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law at ASU.

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