University of Wisconsin–Stout recently participated in Free Speech Week, for the first time. Free Speech is an annual nationwide event intended to raise public awareness of the importance of free speech. The event, hosted by the Center of the Study of Institutions and Innovation, lasted from Oct. 16 to 21. “Our mission is to promote on campus and across the state the discussion and study of civil liberties and how they relate to institutions and innovation,” said Director Tim Shiell. “Since free speech is one of our most important civil liberties, Free Speech Week is a perfect fit with our mission.”
Seven public discussions were held throughout the week, focusing on campus free speech, creative expression, controversial speakers, classroom free speech, racist speech, perspectives on the confederacy and a high school workshop. Numerous speakers shared their perspectives during these events including students, professors and guest speakers.
One of those guest speakers was Azhar Majeed, the Vice President of Policy Reform at FIRE, a nonprofit organization that focuses on the free speech liberties of students across the United States. Majeed stressed the importance of tolerating the ideologies of others, even if it makes a student slightly uncomfortable. “[Students] reasonably point out…why should I have to put up with [intimidating speakers] when all I want to do is live in peace and be a student?’ That’s part of life in a free society….you do have to put up with some level of bends and discomfort.”
The Freedom of Expression policy was also frequently brought up during question sessions, with students providing their reactions to its recent approval. Student Dillion Quest stated, “Indirectly, I think it hinders our ability to go out and voice our own ideas. There’s always that idea that even if I do say something, that I might not be able to interact in these community gatherings with these speakers.”
The past week was an opportunity for students and locals to discuss the importance of not only sharing your own voice, but listening to others and working together to respectfully solve problems. R
Many of the events were livestreamed on the Stoutonia Facebook page.