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CSAD to host conference on free speech, civil discourse

The Center for the Study of American Democracy (CSAD) will feature prominent thought leaders such as former chair of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean, author of The War On Cops Heather Mac Donald and Brookings Institution fellow Shadi Hamid, at its upcoming Sept. 27-28 conference about free speech in the modern world. The conference, titled “Free Speech, Civil Discourse,” will be held at the Community Foundation Theater. Jeffrey Rosen, the president of the National Constitution Center — a nonprofit, nonpartisan institution devoted to the study of the U.S. Constitution — will give the keynote address, which is about the Constitution’s position on free speech, in Rosse Hall on Sept. 27 at 7:30 p.m.

Freedom of speech became especially prominent on college campuses nationwide in 2017, when hundreds of students at Middlebury College banded together to protest a talk by Charles Murray, a controversial author whose works have been used to justify genetic differences between black and white people. The protesters ultimately shut down the speech. Critics used the Middlebury incident, as well as protests at the University of California Berkeley, to argue that free speech was being threatened.

Locally, Kenyon students became invested in this debate when two students created HisCampus, a conservative-leaning website founded in response to a perception that “the voice of the majority around college campuses …. [is] telling people what they can and cannot say,” according to the HisCampus website.

This conference is an opportunity for those on all sides of the debate over freedom of speech versus political correctness to air their concerns.

The conference will feature fifteen speakers from conservative, liberal and nonpartisan backgrounds. Thomas Karako, director of CSAD, is optimistic that the speakers will bring a variety of views to the table. “I think you are going to see a good diversity of backgrounds, of opinions, of walks of life in this line up,” Karako said.

The speakers will go head-to-head in panels about hate speech and the limits of free expression, political correctness and microaggressions in the academy and the definitions of a free society.

“Come out, talk to them, engage them with challenging questions in that Kenyon way,” Karako said. He said the conference will focus on “a topic that is important and exciting and also controversial, but we are not afraid of that because we need to have candid and probing discussions of controversial issues like this.”

The conference features a contest in which students are invited to submit essays regarding issues of free speech and democracy. Prizes include $500 and a chance to eat dinner with the guest speakers. The deadline is Sept. 20.

The full list of panels and speakers is below:

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 27

4 p.m. Welcome from CSAD Director Tom Karako

4:05 p.m. Panel: Candor, Criticism and the Foundations of a Free Society

Eugene Volokh from the UCLA School of Law, Teresa Bejan from Oxford University, Nancy Powers of Kenyon College

5 p.m. Public Reception in the Gund Gallery Atrium

7:30 p.m. Keynote Address by Jeffrey Rosen: Free Speech and the Constitution

Sean Decatur, president of Kenyon, will welcome attendees and Jeffrey Rosen from the National Constitution Center will give the address in Rosse Hall.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 28

9:30 a.m. Panel: Open Discourse and Liberal Education

Stanley Fish from Yeshiva University, Allison Stanger from Middlebury College and Greg Lukianoff from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

11:10 a.m. Remarks: Is Free Speech the Enemy of Civil Society?

Nadine Strossen, former head of the American Civil Liberties Union

1:30 p.m. Panel: Hate Speech and the Limits of Free Expression

Ulrich Baer of New York University, Stephanie Fryberg ’94 from the University of Washington and Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution

3 p.m. Panel: Political Correctness, Microaggressions and the Academy

Laura Kipnis from Northwestern University, Derald Wing Sue from Columbia University, Abbie Erler of Kenyon College

4:45 p.m. Public Reception in the Gund Gallery Atrium

7:15 p.m. Panel: Civil Discourse and America

Joe Klesner, provost of Kenyon College, will welcome conference attendees prior to Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, Steven Pinker from Harvard University and Heather Mac Donald from the Manhattan Institute participating in a panel discussion, which will take place in Rosse Hall.

By Betul Ayden and Ronan Elliott

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