Weekly News Digest, No. 26

Crowd standing in a public square

Happy summer and welcome to the twenty-sixth installment of the Project on Civil Discourse’s Weekly News Digest, hosted on our Real Talk blog.

Campus Free Speech

Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia University, authors an opinion about Trump’s claim that his executive order regarding free speech was “needed to defend ‘American values that have been under siege…” Bollinger noted  that universities are “more hospital venues for open debate than the nation” as “78 percent of college students reported they favor an open learning environment that includes offensive views.” However, “only 66 percent of adults [favor] uninhibited discourse.”  

Knight Foundation released a study surveying college student attitudes on free speech, diversity, and inclusion. The study finds that “a majority of college students also support broad speech protections.” However, “there are deep divisions among college students by race, political affiliation, gender, and sexual orientation that point to broad and enduring rifts within campus communities on these issues.”

Washington Post Reporter Fredrick Kunkle writes that a student at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee came under fire when he held a sign with a swastika and the word ‘Gas’ on it as students were celebrating Israel’s independence. Kunkle interviews Joel Berkowitz, director of the school’s Jewish Studies program, who said the school’s statement defended “the student’s right to free speech [and] failed to condemn strongly enough the hateful message.” 

National Discourse

Writing for USA Today, Ledyard King examines how the 2016 presidential election has polarized the country’s most personal relationships: friendships, marriages, and everything in between. In January 2019, “87% of Republicans approved of Trump’s performance during 2018 versus only 8% of Democrats…That 79-percentage-point difference is the largest Gallup has measured in any presidential year to date.” King then interviews a number of civil discourse groups that aim to bridge the political gap between Americans. 

Journalist Nadine Epstein coins the term ‘Sick Civil Discourse Syndrome’ and suggests methods to become more civil and tolerant online. Epstein encourages internet users to “Never use language that is impolite or pejorative” and to refrain from engaging reactively. She also explains how to find and use truthful sources to support claims and arguments. Finally, she warns users about manipulators and algorithms that aim to impact the biases of readers and consequently prevent thoughtfulness and civil discourse. 

Thanks for reading!