In America, free speech is something that is often taken for granted as a part of every day life. But, what exactly is the First Amendment that protects the right to such speech? What exactly does it protect? What is considered free speech?
These are some of the questions that were raised on Wednesday as part of the Rocky Topics series on dialogue on college campuses.
This was the last event of Rocky Topics for this semester, hosted by Dean Shea Kidd Houze, associate vice chancellor and dean of students, and Joe Miles, associate professor of psychology here at UT.
Kidd Houze began with setting the intentions for the discussion and laying some ground rules for participants.
“Our whole hope is to provide a space where people feel comfortable to start having these conversations,” Kidd Houze said.
First, Kidd Houze and Miles refreshed discussion members with the history and definition of the First Amendment, explaining the complicated language behind it. In this way, they defined what is a part of the free speech promise and what isn’t, according to the amendment itself.
Kidd Houze and Miles also educated participants about the Campus Free Speech Protection Act, which is a holistic state-wide act that allows for free speech on campuses, including UT.
Then, Kidd Houze and Miles proposed provoking questions to the group, which participants discussed in small groups and then talked about further in the larger group.
Out of privacy for all those that attended the event, this article will discuss the various broad topics that were a part of the dialogue.
Major topics include the call-out culture of online media interactions and how these can lead to discouragement of freedom of speech, as well as respectful disagreement and how we can talk to those with differing opinions in a productive way.
In addition, the group engaged in discussions about the intentions of conversations and the notion of leading with care.
Furthermore, the conversation continued in the context of the upcoming political election and the current political climate. With such a polarizing climate, Kidd Houze and Miles talked through how to have dialogue with those on the other side of the political spectrum.
As the group learned, it is important to talk in terms of “I” statements and make sure to avoid dehumanizing language so as to show the other person in a discussion that individuality is a value we all share.
The group present for this conversation was small and intimate, which lead to a productive discussion where everyone shared their feelings. One student present was Caitlin Lloyd, a senior in the College Scholars program studying film production studies with an emphasis in diversity and inclusion, who spoke about the value of these sessions.
“I think continuing to have dialogues like this are important even as hate and prejudice haven’t been at the forefront … they need to be continual so that we as a campus can move forward in a loving and compassionate way,” Lloyd said.
Rocky Topics will continue in the fall as Kidd Houze and Miles further work to educate students about controversial topics and the importance of productive dialogue.