Feng Ye @ USL

“Making a Free Speech Crisis and Legitimating White Supremacy: A Case Study of the University of Chicago”

Feng Ye | PhD Student, Anthropology

Discussant: Molly Cunningham | Teaching Fellow in the Social Sciences

Wednesday, October 20th, 2021 4:30-6pm CT

Haskell Hall 101

*Hybrid Event: for zoom info and paper email zarrington@uchicago.edu

Paper Abstract: In recent years, “free speech” has re-emerged as a battleground for the new “culture wars” at public as well as private American colleges. In response to “offenses” to “free speech” such as disruptions or disinvitations of conservative speakers, “speech codes” that prohibit “hate speech,” and “safe spaces” that protect historically marginalized groups (American Association of University Professors 2018), numerous colleges have declared a commitment to an ideal of “campus free speech” analogized from 20th century interpretations of the First Amendment. Focusing on the case of the University of Chicago, whose “Chicago Principles” declare that the University will not restrict or prohibit any debate simply because the ideas presented therein are thought to be offensive or wrong-headed, this essay examines the University of Chicago’s official discourse and policies as a case study, and follows some of the broader connections around First Amendment “free speech” that the case of the University of Chicago is embedded in. In other words, I want to think about “campus free speech” as a node in the larger conceptual and material network formed around “free speech.” I try to show that “free speech” has become a justification for the tolerance and promotion of white supremacist rhetoric and a vehicle for political inaction that preserves existing institutions against structural change. I also propose that there is a particular obsession over “free speech” in the US that speaks to broader understandings of what constitutes political participation, who is capable of such participation, and how ideals of transparent political participation share a (perhaps counter-intuitive) intimacy with forms of secrecy such that these polar opposites perpetuate each other.

* This convening is open to all invitees regardless of vaccination status and, because of ongoing health risks to the unvaccinated, those who are unvaccinated are expected to adopt the risk mitigation measures advised by public health officials (masking and social distancing, etc.). Public convening may not be safe for all and carries a risk for contracting COVID-19, particularly for those unvaccinated. Participants will not know the vaccination status of others, including venue staff, and should follow appropriate risk mitigation measures.

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