SGA Hosts Fishbowl on Free Speech

Caroline Ahearn ’20

Chief News Editor

On Monday, February 11, students and community members gathered in Hogan for “Freedom of Expression: A Fishbowl Chat.” Sponsored by the Student Government Association, the event sought to be a dialogue on what freedom of expression is, what it looks like on the Holy Cross campus, and what rights and responsibilities come with freedom of expression. Just a week after the historic two-day sit-in outside Father Boroughs’ office calling for transparency regarding sexual assault allegations against Professor Christopher Dustin, the fishbowl was an opportunity to shed light on what can and cannot be said, where it can and cannot be said, and why.

The event opened with a welcome from SGA Co-President Adrian Cacho ‘19, in which he shared that the College is now working to draft a philosophy statement on freedom of expression, and that this fishbowl was the first of many events in that process. The statement, which is not yet a dictated policy, has been in progress for over a year. All of the events and discussions, including open listening sessions to drafts of the statement, will be opportunities to provide input on the drafting process and ensure that their voices are heard.

Photo by Hui Li ’21. Students share their thoughts on freedom of expression on campus.

Elizabeth Small, general counsel to the College, then took over with a detailed presentation on the differences between freedom of expression and freedom of speech, and the complicated legalities of speech and expression at private institutions like Holy Cross. Small acknowledged how difficult it can be to accept that even some hateful speech is technically legal, but implored those made uncomfortable by that to consider how important it is to have discussions about why that speech exists and what can be done about it.

After Small’s presentation, Tom Landy, Director of the McFarland Center for Religion, Ethics, and Culture, which hosts several speakers in Rehm Library each semester, took over to begin the fishbowl. Landy began his facilitation by presenting the fishbowl with a hypothetical situation: what if the College were to invite a highly controversial figure to speak on campus? Should a speaker be turned down due to their beliefs or words?

Students in the bowl responded with intelligent comments about the nuance between a controversial figure and a legitimately credentialed figure, and the nuance between freedom from and freedom of. As the discussion continued, students went on to bring up the role of Holy Cross’ own mission in deciding what speech should or should not be allowed on campus, especially with its Jesuit identity. Students also raised further questions such as “Who gets to pass moral judgement?” “Who gets to decide what is controversial and what is not?” “Where do you draw the line between what is thought-provoking and what is controversial?” and “Should there even be policy dictating who can speak on campus?”

“After working on this for over a year, getting the opportunity to continue this conversation, especially as someone who is intrigued by the multiple perspectives regarding it, it was good to hear from others as we continue this process and draft the philosophy statement,” said Cacho.

“It’s exciting to roll out our statement to students and the community,” said Co-President Meredith Coolidge ‘19. “Given our current climate on campus and on a national level, being in spaces with people we don’t agree with is so important. This process is an opportunity to create more spaces for dialogue.”

Following the fishbowl, the first opening listening for the entire community was held Thursday February 14. Another community-wide listening session will be held on Tuesday, February 19, followed by a student-only listening session on Wednesday, February 27.

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