Symposium reignites free speech debate

Illustration by Raya Deussen

By Jackson Sundheim

The Community & Free Speech Symposium, sponsored by IME and several other campus groups, took place on Oct. 11 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., consisting of several events, all open to the Lewis & Clark community. Talks and presentations regarding such topics as “The Constitutional Backdrop” and “Influences of Media on Ideology” were part of the proceedings, but perhaps the most relevant to the LC campus was the panel entitled “Limitations on Speakers––Yea or Nay?”

Last spring, one of the speakers invited to the International Affairs Symposium was Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies. This organization was named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, prompting members of the community to protest against the invitation in the hopes of it being rescinded. It was not, and Vaughan’s presence on campus was met with a wide range of reactions, from a Q&A session that consisted mostly of statements rather than questions, to a demonstration outside of the venue which included the activation of two fire alarms. While most members of the community did not actively protest the event, the questions it raised were repeated throughout the Free Speech Symposium.

The members of the panel were Associate Professor of History Reiko Hillyer, Professor of Law Steven Kanter, Adjunct Professor of Exploration and Discovery Christopher Roberts and Associate Professor and Department Chair of International Affairs Heather Smith-Cannoy. The panel was moderated by Associate Professor and Chair of Educational Leadership Mollie Galloway. Each of the panelists took a position on the topic at hand, though there were no strong disagreements.

“The right to speak does not entitle you a right to a platform; it does not entitle you to be lifted up above other potential speakers,” Hillyer said in her opening remarks, referring to the importance of context and power dynamics in choosing which speakers to invite.

Kanter was the next to speak.

““We have, in this country, gotten too politically correct … It never works to censor.”

Roberts, however, disagreed.

“My position is for vetting the speakers who come to campus,” Roberts said.

Roberts then cited white nationalist Richard Spencer saying, “We came, we triggered, we left” as a means of illustrating the futility of attempting rational debate with those who aim primarily to provoke.

“Spencer and the white supremacists don’t have to win an argument; they only have to make others lose,” Roberts said.

Smith-Cannoy held a different opinion.

“I don’t think there should be limits on who we invite to campus and what they should be permitted to say,” Smith-Cannoy said. “Even hateful speakers should be allowed to speak, but they have absolutely no right to go unchallenged.”

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