query “While I would never want to deny a student’s personal experience, I do want to have the students look beyond themselves to learn about other perspectives.” —Molly Smith ’82
see that there are many different lived experiences today and that a person’s position on a particular issue will be different depending on what that experience is. For example, when we look at the question of immigration in U.S. history class, we read articles that demonstrate the varied impact that immigration has on different regions and different social classes so that they can understand there is no universal impact. With the tendency to simplify and polarize prevalent in the variety of media our students are exposed to, the underlying and recurring theme in my classroom is “It’s complicated. Discuss.” While I would never want to deny a student’s personal experience, I do want to have the students look beyond themselves to learn about other perspectives. Equipping students with a body of knowledge that takes them beyond their own history and that of their families, imparting a sense of empathy, is invaluable. One of my favorite phrases to hear from my students is “I never realized that …” As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie so eloquently expresses at the end of her TED Talk, “When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.” Molly Smith ’82, chair of the History Department in the Upper School, has taught at Friends for eight years.
You might expect me, as a law professor, to emphasize how legal rules determine the limits of free expression. Instead, I hope to persuade you that law — and even university policies — should play merely a peripheral role in establishing the conditions for a productive exchange of ideas. To be sure, various sources of law prohibit falsely defamatory statements, protect individual privacy, and outlaw discrimination, threats, and harassment. Constitutional principles prohibit public — though not private — schools and universities from favoring one viewpoint over another. And university policies often regulate the time, place, and manner of otherwise protected expression to ensure that it does not disrupt day-to-day operations. In a well-functioning university, however, these formal regulations should be invoked only rarely. And they do only a small part of the work necessary to foster a free and vigorous exchange of ideas. Legal rules wisely focus on only the most egregious conduct. Indeed, First Amendment principles require the state to bear a heavy
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burden to justify any limits Artist’s Viewpoint on speech. We rightly I’ve been curious about “saying the fear that excessive legal right thing,” the “wrong thing,” and regulation will chill regretting what you do or don’t say. free expression. I think this concept can tie into what it means to be a woman and biting Poorly drafted laws your tongue on the important things. and policies tend to be Constructing a tactile 3-D object (this both overbroad and vague. is my first official sculpture ever) was a Transitory controversies cathartic process in itself and stitching often inspire unduly the words felt meaningful because restrictive responses. sewing is a historically female activity. For example, the recent The statements I stitched into the tarlatan, including “I trusted you and re-emergence of narrowly shouldn’t have,” “I am jealous of you,” circumscribed “free speech and “Sometimes boys aren’t where zones” illustrates a welllife starts and ends,” are things I never meaning but misguided got to say or was too scared to say approach to regulating during my life in high school. The campus speech. Conversely, piece is called “Parting Gift” for legislation prohibiting a reason. —Kayleigh Ford ’17 public universities from withdrawing speaking invitations ignores legitimate reasons for reconsidering a prior invitation. We also should worry about vague anti-harassment policies, which sweep so broadly that faculty and students must worry when they express civil disagreement with others. Even well-drafted university policies depend crucially on administrators to interpret them sensitively to support legitimate aims and avoid unduly constraining speech.
Published annually by Friends School of Baltimore