Students open series on freedom of expression

CMC students, faculty, and staff gathered on November 3 for the first of a series of events planned to develop a set of principles for practicing freedom of expression on campus.

The lunch-hour discussion, “Is There a Line? A Discussion on Free Speech,” was organized by Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College, and Free Food for Thought, a student podcast.

ASCMC President Sami Malas ’18, Shivani Pandya ’18, Kate Ridenour ’18, and Patrick Elliott ’19 came up with the idea on a trip to Washington, D.C., with CMC President Hiram Chodosh.

On the trip, the group met with Senators, Senate staff, and leaders including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. They discussed free speech on campus, DACA, and other issues important to college students.

Lawmakers wanted a student opinion, Ridenour said. Rather than create policies limiting free speech, she said, lawmakers prefer campus communities set their own standards.

The group conceived of a forum to find where the CMC community stands on these topics.

Student moderators led discussions of criteria for inviting speakers to campus, free speech in and out of the classroom, and best practices for ensuring free speech on controversial topics.

At one table, a self-described conservative said that she agreed with spring 2017 Athenaeum speaker Heather Mac Donald. She said that presenting unpopular opinions like Mac Donald's is important to diversity of opinion.

The student across from her, who called herself liberal, disagreed. She said MacDonald’s dismissive view of Black Lives Matter and mass incarceration was harmful.

They agreed, however, that certain speakers could be limited to specific venues for security. Both said they came to CMC to experience different political viewpoints.

At another table, President Chodosh and students discussed the standards and criteria for bringing speakers to the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum, as well as the national conversation around controversial campus speakers.

Another group proposed CMC only invite speakers who elevate the quality of discourse on campus.

BSA President Sydney Baffour ’20 pointed out that affinity groups benefit from hearing perspectives of other organizations on campus.

Government Professor Roderic A. Camp said when he came to CMC in the 1990s, professors held informal discussions in dorm common rooms. Students, he said, often felt more at ease taking on difficult topics with a moderator.

–Michael Tesauro