On the eve of the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s election, about 50 students and faculty members attended a forum of student political club leaders who discussed free speech in the Trump era.
“In his own brilliant and disturbing way, depending on your perspective, Trump tapped into the anti-establishment,” said political science professor Lori Cox Han, who organized the event, during the discussion in Argyros Forum Nov. 7. “Even a year after the election, many in the establishment are still missing the point as to why he won.”
Han has been “appalled” by some college campuses that have banned specific speakers, and is proud of Chapman for facilitating controversial conversations, she said.
Representatives from four campus political clubs – Chapman Democrats, Chapman Republicans, Young Americans for Liberty, and Alternatives in Democracy – participated in what Dean of Students Jerry Price called a “complex” Q&A. Students talked about political socialization, the differences between free speech and hate speech and professors’ roles in promoting a safe environment for freedom of ideas.
Chapman hosted the event as part of its efforts to encourage an academic approach to discussing issues, Price said.
Similar to the event that hosted controversial Title IX critic Laura Kipnis in October, Price hoped this would be an opportunity for civil discourse, and his expectations were met, he said.
“Universities have not done an adequate job in fostering academic and respectful debate when it comes to social issues,” Price said. “I was satisfied by the discourse and was appreciative of the audience’s participation.”
History professor Alexander Bay asked the audience during the event if certain ideas deserve to have platforms.
“Should we engage a Holocaust denier? Should we host someone who denies climate change?” Bay said. “There is a line – it is not black and white – but there is a line. Do some topics just not deserve our engagement?”
Various responses met Bay’s question, with President Daniele Struppa saying that the only way we learn as a society is by talking to those whose opinions differ from our own.
“We will come out stronger as a community if we engage and debate with each other,” Struppa said. “If I lost my openness to talk to those who think differently than myself, I might as well stay home.”
Some representatives from campus political clubs told The Panther they appreciated the opportunity to voice opinions and concerns, and were impressed with the questions that the audience posed.
“I am technically labeled as the president of Alternatives in Democracy, but I have just as much power as anyone else in the club,” said Juan Bustillo, a junior screenwriting and political science major. “I was also happy to express my thoughts on free speech and how it can change the way we think about progress.”
Free speech can incite progress and unity, Bustillo said, citing the thousands of people who came together to silence a group of Charlottesville-like protesters in Boston in August.
“The congregation of Nazis and the hate they were promoting was surrounded by people shouting over them,” Bustillo said. “I think that is a perfect example of free speech being used to combat hateful speech.”
Chapman Republicans ambassador Stephen Ragsdale said there is a complexity distinguishing the line between free speech and hate speech.
“Hate speech is entirely subjective,” said Ragsdale, a sophomore news and documentary major. “What one person might think is hate speech, someone else may not. If you believe that hate speech shouldn’t be protected, then you don’t believe in free speech.”
Chapman Democrats president Matthew Reminick talked about varying the methods of discussing free speech, presenting the idea of a forum where people can come together and discuss.
Tyler Ferrari, the president of Chapman’s Young Americans for Liberty, spoke about free speech acting as protection from the state.
“If free speech is attacked by the state, the issues that we need to talk about will be pushed underground,” Ferrari said. “Those harmful ideas can then manifest. If we challenge the public thought, we can make progress.”