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Greg Lukianoff Visits Haverford in Second “Discourse on Discourse” Installment

Content Warning: This article refers to sexual misconduct, as it contains an analysis of Haverford’s Sexual Misconduct Policy.

On Thursday, April 19, Haverford held a talk by Greg Lukianoff, President and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).  The talk was the second installment in the Discourse on Discourse events series, which brought Penn’s Sigal Ben-Porath to campus earlier this semester. The talk was originally planned for February but had been rescheduled by Lukianoff.

The author of the 2015 article “The Coddling of the American Mind” and co-author of the full-length book bearing the same title that was published in 2018, Lukianoff is a well-known commentator on issues of free speech on college campuses. His other works include titles such as “Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate” and “Freedom from Speech.”

After a brief welcome and introduction from Dean of Student Engagement and Leadership Initiatives and Associate Dean of the College Mike Elias, Lukianoff began his prepared presentation which was titled “Freedom From Speech to a ‘Free Speech Culture’ on Campus.” Lukianoff began with a brief discussion of how societies throughout history have handled political dissenters and highlighted how he saw the First Amendment as quite audacious given this history. He then detailed several factors he believed threatened free speech on campus, citing famous First Amendment cases for each as well as his own work. He concluded by leaving students with some homework: to argue with yourself, and to be prepared to fight for your own free speech and the free speech of others.

“The way we formatted the event was to really encourage discussion. We had a panel that did a 30-minute conversation with Greg and then we had a ‘Q and A’ session at the end. We really wanted it to be a conversation for the whole community,” said Ellen Schoder ‘19, a member of the Discourse on Discourse planning committee.

After the lecture and panelist questions, the audience, large enough to roughly half-fill Stokes Auditorium, was eager to ask Lukianoff some questions. Audience questions varied in topic, ranging from a challenge to Lukianoff’s presentation of the correlation between increased instances of limits to free speech and increased anxiety and depression rates on college campuses to a request for Lukianoff to disclose his speaker fee from Haverford.

One student asked Lukianoff for clarification on FIRE’s ratings of Haverford College and Bryn Mawr College. Though Lukianoff was not able to comment on Haverford and Bryn Mawr’s ratings at that time, the Clerk contacted Lukianoff after the event and received his explanation for the colleges’ ratings. Lukianoff wrote via email:

“First, Haverford earns a yellow light rating due to two yellow light policies that it maintains, which can be found here. Haverford’s Sexual Misconduct policy earns this rating because it defines sexual harassment as ‘unwelcome conduct that is sexual in nature.’ While the policy goes on to later provide additional requirements that conduct must meet in order to be considered actionable, this initial definition is both vague and broad. It encompasses a great deal of constitutionally protected speech, including discussion of literature with sexual themes and debate about contentious political topics, such as same-sex marriage and reproductive choice, that may simply be offensive to some.

“The other yellow light policy at Haverford is the college’s Honor Code, which uses vague language about ‘racism,’ ‘sexism,’  and other speech and conduct, and suggests that failure to live up to these standards may result in a ‘trial’ and even ‘separation from the college.’ While it would be fine for the college to encourage certain behavior and values, Haverford may not impose those values as a requirement under pain of punishment.

“As for Bryn Mawr, it earns a red light rating (our worst rating), maintaining one red light policy and three yellow light policies, all of which can be found here. The red light policy, another Honor Code provision, states that ‘acts of racism, homophobia, classism, [and] ableism,’ as well as any speech or conduct that is ‘devoid of respect,’ violate the policy. Certainly, speech that is considered racist or homophobic may be offensive to some or even many students. However, the vast majority of such expression is protected by the First Amendment, and should be protected at institutions that, like Haverford and Bryn Mawr, have committed themselves to free speech. Likewise, speech should not be punished simply because it lacks ‘respect’ in the eyes of the college administration.”

The Discourse on Discourse committee had been hoping that such specific discussion would come from Lukianoff’s inclusion in the Discourse on Discourse series. “We had been hoping that the discussion would be a little bit more focused on Haverford. Before Greg came, the Committee had put together some materials and sent them to him about different issues that are currently happening on campus, and so we had hoped that he would be able to talk a little bit more about some of the specific issues at Haverford and how students can engage with them,” said Schoder.

After Lukianoff’s talk, City Love, this semester’s Friends in Residence, hosted a space for all students to reflect on the talk and share their thoughts. The event was the duo’s final planned activity for their residency at Haverford.

Though Lukianoff’s talk is the final planned Discourse on Discourse event for the semester, it is possible that the initiative will carry into next year. “We’re currently having conversations about what we want the committee to look like next year and what form it would take, ” said Schoder.

The Clerk is accepting contributions regarding Greg Lukianoff’s talk. Email us at hcclerk@gmail.com if you’d like your thoughts on the event to be published.

2 Comments

  1. Alum April 30, 2019

    Not going to comment on the political content—that speaks for itself—but it seems like extremely bad timing to post an article criticizing the Sexual Misconduct policies. Thoughtless and insensitive to survivors.

  2. Hayden Kesterson May 1, 2019

    This guy is funded by the Koch brothers and other less high profile right wing donors. Why the focus seems to consistently fall on the alleged or hypothetical hindrance of free speech, rather than siding with marginalized people and the actual emotional and psychological harm that words inflict on them never ceases to amaze me. As a student from a conservative household and community I understand why so many are worried about the things Lukianoff brings up, but framing the discussion around this particular construction of “free speech” not only misses the point, it vilifies students for daring to even wish for protection from the power dynamics that pervade our society and speech.

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