The Center for Leadership and Service in H Quad was filled with contested debate on Monday, Sept. 17, as the Center for Civic Justice hosted its first community dialogue on freedom of speech.
The dialogue, convened by co-director of the Center for Civic Justice and Residence Hall Director of Stimson College Steven Adelson, was held for students, faculty and staff to come together and further their understanding on the topic. The event focused on hate speech on college campuses, kneeling during the national anthem and the rise of white supremacy rallies. The Center for Civic Justice hosts three community dialogues on different issues each semester. Past community dialogue issues included immigration in America, issues about gun violence and fixing political systems.
“Students appreciate the opportunity to share, listen, and engage in conversation about oftentimes divisive issues in a respectful manner,” Adelson wrote in an email.
Participants in the community dialogue were placed randomly at tables of eight, with one member at each table designated as staff facilitator. Each participant received a single page resource guide that outlined the three themes for the night and the ground rules. Each theme was discussed in 15-minute intervals.
While deliberating each theme, the facilitator guided the discussion with questions pertaining to the topic. Participants were quick to jump in with their opinions and personal experiences, and branched off other students’ ideas.
The discussion flowed freely and explored other related topics.
“You can’t get too political,” freshman civil engineering major Sean Gribbin said while discussing free speech in comedy. “If you keep talking about it, you’re trying to cause controversy.”
After making a list of common ideas at the table, the convener asked participants to share ideas during an overall reflection.
At closing, students were invited to share their thoughts on their overall experience. One student wished they had “gotten more time” than the allotted two hours. A hum of agreement and subsequent applause from other participants followed the statement.
Many students, like freshman psychology major Julia Pollina, left the community dialogue with a new way of looking at freedom of speech.
“Free speech to me, I thought I had it all figured out and when I sat down I realized there were a lot of things I had to figure out,” Pollina said.