Weekly News Digest, No. 22

Crowd standing in a public square

Welcome to the twenty-second installment of the Project on Civil Discourse’s Weekly News Digest, hosted on our Real Talk blog.

Student Discussions

Are you interested in the role of political, social, and racial identity in speech? Do you want to talk with your peers about campus speech, civility, or post-truth conversations?

The Project on Civil Discourse is holding twenty student discussions where a group of 8-10 students and two peer facilitators come together to talk about discourse from a variety of different angles. For a list of discussions and to register, click here.

Upcoming Events

The Global Education Forum, “Hate Comes to Campus,” will be held on Thursday, March 28th. The Forum will feature a 2:30pm panel discussing free speech and the campus community and a 5:00pm panel discussing the radical right and global education. The Project on Civil Discourse is co-sponsoring the Forum and PCD Director Lara Schwartz will be a member of the first panel. For more information or to register, click here.

On Wednesday, April 3rd, Louis Michael Seidman will speak at American University about his work, “Can Free Speech be Progressive?” Seidman is the Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Constitutional Law at Georgetown Law. Seidman’s talk will be held at 2:30pm in Hughes Hall Formal Lounge and is presented by the Project on Civil Discourse. To RSVP through Facebook, click here.

Debate and Civil Discourse

Several months ago, Facebook filed a patent for a system where people could “meaningfully engage in civil discourse” online. The Verge walks through their patent, highlighting how it could work and discussing how it fits with Facebook’s current identity. Their system focuses on “smaller-scale engagement with local politics” and is “designed to help people come up with political solutions, not formally propose them as laws.”

An editorial in the Las Vegas Sun describes the power of a debate between the UNLV debate team and members of the Brookings Institution over healthcare policy. “Who won and who lost wasn’t as important as the overall message of the event – that divisive issues can be argued aggressively but respectfully.” Richard Reeves, from Brookings, talked in an interview with the Sunabout the importance of listening, bring facts from both sides of the issue together, and divorcing issue positions from identity.

Campus Speech

After President Trump’s announcement at CPAC of an executive order denying federal funding to colleges and universities that do not support free speech, Inside Higher Ed wrote about what this may look like. While the White House’s budget release came and went without further details on this order, it is still possible that President Trump could introduce one in the coming weeks.

After a UC Davis professor refused to retract statements that police should be killed, students are rallying to fire him. The Davis College Republicans sponsored the rally, which featured the mother of a UC Davis graduate who was killed in the line of duty and Assemblyman James Gallagher. Gallagher “turned in 10,000 signed petitions asking administrators” that the professor be fired, but still tried to encourage civil debate and talking to black students who are frequently pulled over by the police.

Incivility and Contempt

Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, argues that our problem today is not incivility or intolerance, but contempt. This stems from motive attribution asymmetry, or the assumption that your side is driven by love and your opponent’s side is driven by hate. Brooks writes that we need to disagree better, not less, and commit to never treating others with contempt.

Thanks for reading!

Weekly News Digest, No. 21

Crowd standing in a public square

Welcome to the twenty-first installment of the Project on Civil Discourse’s Weekly News Digest, hosted on our Real Talk blog.

Student Discussions

Are you interested in the role of political, social, and racial identity in speech? Do you want to talk with your peers about campus speech, civility, or post-truth conversations?

The Project on Civil Discourse is holding twenty student discussions where a group of 8-10 students and two peer facilitators come together to talk about discourse from a variety of different angles. For a list of discussions and to register, click here.

Upcoming Events

On Thursday, March 21st, the University of California’s National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement will host their #SpeechMatters conference at their Washington Center. With a focus on the future of free expression on college campuses, the conference will feature panels on civil discourse and online speech, along with a keynote lecture and other functions. For a detailed schedule and list of speakers or to register, click here.

The Global Education Forum, “Hate Comes to Campus,” will be held on Thursday, March 28th. The Forum will feature a 2:30pm panel discussing free speech and the campus community and a 5:00pm panel discussing the radical right and global education. The Project on Civil Discourse is co-sponsoring the Forum and PCD Director Lara Schwartz will be a member of the first panel. For more information or to register, click here.

Free Speech on Campus

At CPAC on Saturday, President Donald Trump announced: “I will be very soon signing an executive order requiring colleges and universities to support free speech if they want federal research grants.” Trump didn’t give further details about an order that will “appeal to conservative lawmakers who have increasingly sought intervene in campus matters,” The Chronicle of Higher Education reports. This announcement echoes a February 2017 tweet in which Trump threatened U.C. Berkeley’s federal funds after students protested the visit of right-wing provocateur, Milo Yiannopoulos.

Free Speech and SCOTUS

Schenck v. United States celebrated its 100th birthday on Sunday, marking a century since the Supreme Court “weighed in for one of the first times on the meaning of the First Amendment.” Christopher Daly writes about how the Supreme Court’s ruling has shaped free speech in the decades since, especially in the context of a free press. Daly concludes: “Judging from the wartime reporting in recent decades about the Pentagon Papers case, the My Lai Massacre, and the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, the record suggests that Americans need a free and robust news media every bit as much in wartime as in peacetime.”

Information Literacy

Recent research suggests that individuals who “ascribe profundity to randomly generated sentences” tend to believe that fake news is accurate and struggle to differentiate fake and real news. Similarly, individuals who claim they are smarter than they are “also perceive fake news as more accurate.” These results “reinforce the important role that analytic thinking plays in the recognition of misinformation.”

Thanks for reading!

Weekly News Digest, No. 20

Crowd standing in a public square

Welcome to the twentieth installment of the Project on Civil Discourse’s Weekly News Digest, hosted on our Real Talk blog.

Upcoming Events

On Monday, March 4th, Floyd Abrams will participate in a Q&A session about the Supreme Court and free speech at the Washington College of Law. To RSVP, click here.

On Wednesday, March 6th, Tyler Lewis will speak at American University about the importance of conviction and authenticity in value-driven political communication. Lewis is the Director of Coalition Communications and Research at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Lewis’ talk will be held at 11:30am in MGC 200 and is presented by the Project on Civil Discourse. To RSVP through Facebook, click here.

On Thursday, March 21st, the University of California’s National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement will host their #SpeechMatters conference at their Washington Center. With a focus on the future of free expression on college campuses, the conference will feature panels on civil discourse and online speech, along with a keynote lecture and other functions. For a detailed schedule and list of speakers or to register, click here.

Free Speech and Students

Christian Watson charges that “controversy for controversy’s sake won’t win the fight for free speech on campus” in an article for The Washington Examiner. Watson pushes back against the typical conservative strategy of bringing speakers that decry safe spaces and intentionally create outrage among students, such as Richard Spencer or Milo Yiannopoulos. Instead, “student groups are better off just inviting respectable right-of-center thinkers to speak – folks who challenge the dominant worldview on campus without spreading controversy just for controversy’s sake.”

The Free Speech Project at Georgetown University reports that both liberal and conservative voices are being suppressed on campuses at about the same amount, contrary to popular belief. Challenges to free speech have moved from college campuses to the high school level recently, with numerous instances where school administrators have censored commencement speeches or school newspaper articles. The Project notes that “the complaints often have less to do with ideology than with avoiding controversy of any sort.”

Civil Discourse

This letter to the editor in the Santa Monica Daily Press lays out a vision for efficient civil discourse, including four rules: agree on the definitions of “fact” and “opinion,” relinquish the need to be right, be willing to listen, and stop finger-pointing. Evan, the author, argues that “it’s our approach that’s hurting us,” noting that we should lead with civility since ‘like breeds like.’

Thanks for reading!

Weekly News Digest, No. 19

Crowd standing in a public square

Welcome to the nineteenth installment of the Project on Civil Discourse’s Weekly News Digest, hosted on our Real Talk blog.

Director Lara Schwartz and Daniel Ritter co-authored an article on civil discourse that appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of Academe. They discussed the importance of cultivating civil discourse in the classroom and outlined best practices for faculty interested in promoting civil discourse.

 Upcoming Events

On Wednesday, February 27th, PEN America and the Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement are holding a student forum on hate speech, academic freedom, and the First Amendment. It will run from 7:00-8:30pm at the Center’s downtown offices. For more information and to RSVP, click here.

On Wednesday, March 6th, Tyler Lewis will speak at American University about the importance of conviction and authenticity in value-driven political communication. Lewis is the Director of Coalition Communications and Research at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Lewis’ talk will be held at 11:30am in MGC 200 and is presented by the Project on Civil Discourse. To RSVP through Facebook, click here.

On Thursday, March 21st, the University of California’s National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement will host their #SpeechMatters conference at their Washington Center. With a focus on the future of free expression on college campuses, the conference will feature panels on civil discourse and online speech, along with a keynote lecture and other functions. For a detailed schedule and list of speakers or to register, click here.

Campus Speech

PEN America’s Jonathan Friedman writes about the impact of good faith in campus speech controversies in the Winter 2019 issue of Academe.Friedman argues that approaching controversial speakers, trigger warnings, and other hot-button issues with good faith, patience, and listening would deescalate tense situations and reaffirm free speech rights in higher education. However, Friedman notes that some speakers and situations can’t be approached with good faith, such as speakers who targeted historically marginalized groups.

Civil Discourse and Partisanship

The Idaho Statesman recently profiled Keith Allred, executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse. Allred believes that elected officials are far more partisan than the average American, leading to a self-reinforcing media cycle that drives our nation apart. Allred’s solution is simple: “Start with practical, consensus solutions that share broad support. Inform and mobilize and unite people who prize progress over partisan food fights. Show the extremists that they will lose out if they don’t put broadly supported solutions ahead of partisan positioning.”

Symbols and Beliefs

Matthew A. Sears revisits the historical example of the Peloponnesian War to explain how political symbols signal political beliefs and why their usage can shape history. In the case of the Athenians in 5thcentury B.C., acts of vandalism were painted as the “beginning of a plot to overthrow the Athenian democracy.” In the wake of the Covington Catholic controversy, Sears connects this to the wearing of MAGA hats, writing: “But by proudly displaying their MAGA hats, the boys of Covington Catholic presented themselves as embracing a set of exclusionary ideas. It is absolutely fair and rational to take their own self-presentation seriously.”

Thanks for reading!

Student Journalism’s Voice in Campus Discourse is Vital

Samantha McAllister headshot
By Samantha McAllister, AU SIS ’21

Due to the current social climate, we are seeing attacks on media and journalism. As the death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi fades from headlines, the necessary role that dedicated journalists play in how we as a society speak to each other is increasingly highlighted, or dismissed, by those in positions of power.

The need to share stories, both others and my own, is what drove me to my high school newspaper. My passion for sharing my voice about campus issues led me to The Eagle’s opinion section. Whether it be finding out how Title IX changes will affect the university or where someone’s next brunch spot should be, The Eagle is participating in campus discourse.

News happens at AU, big or small. As a columnist, my choice in what to write about frequently starts with the news section. After it was reported that an AU Trustee had a history of sexual misconduct, I wrote a column on how this instance was just an example of the larger problem of disrespect towards women in the workplace. Sometimes, a column idea is simply what my friends have been complaining about in the last week. The process can work in the opposite direction: after Opinion Editor Nickolaus Mack wrote a column highlighting AU’s founder’s ties to slavery, the University created a working group to investigate its history. This was an instance where a student voice could have been ignored, but instead an entire conversation between students and administrators was started on campus that would not have happened otherwise.

Discourse on campus can be fraught with quick reactions and obscured facts. The Eagle, along with the other talented student media organizations on campus, find the truth for students and provide a platform outside of Twitter rants. For Eagle reporters, the ethics code is strict, with reporters not allowed to express opinions on campus related issues, even on personal social media. The dedication for unbiased reports on the people and circumstances that matter on campus is what leads student journalism in shaping campus discourse. Students want to leave campus, and the world, a better place. Providing information and a platform for that discourse is vital for a healthy student body.

Recently, fellow student media organization AWOL was shut out of a public meeting held by the AU Dining Advisory Board focusing on controversial new meal plans. Actions like these are concerning for all students, because without access to information there can be no discussion. Information on college campuses is power, and The Eagle’s role, along with other organizations, is to disseminate that information.

My goal as an opinion columnist is simple: get people talking. Whether that be people disagreeing or the AU administration taking some notice, the purpose of any opinion is to share it. Without a platform to do that like The Eagle, AWOL, or The Blackprint, students could be erased from the issues that most deeply affect them. Students are what drive me to write my opinions: the ones that agree, disagree, or do not even care about the issue. By finding truth and speaking on campus issues, The Eagle and student journalism get the campus talking.

Students and student media talk together to find what matters, now and tomorrow for students. Because in the end, that’s what we all share: an identity as a student.

Samantha McAllister is a sophomore majoring in International Studies at American University. She is an Assistant Opinion Editor for The Eagle and an avid advocate for student journalism.