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The Price of 'Free Speech'

As graduations and their speakers have been getting more and more play on social media, there's been quite a few discussions about "free speech," and institutions potentially censoring speakers they don't agree with.

The discussion is important, but David Shih's piece at NPR's Code Switch helps draw an important distinction between "differing ideas" and "hate speech": 

Racist hate speech has come to emblemize free speech protections because the parties it injures lack social power. Students of color are expected to endure insults to their identities at the same time that celebrities win multi-million dollar defamation settlements and media companies scrupulously guard their intellectual property against plagiarism.

It can easy to hear the cries of "free speech" and wonder if we're doing something wrong, if we're letting our own bias get in the way of other people.

Those are good questions to always ask ourselves. Shih's piece brings important questions to add to that arsenal: Who in the situation comes to the table with the most institutional power? Who comes is working against generations of historical oppression or erasure? What will it mean to help uplift and empower those whose voices have been shut down for generations?

Asking these questions doesn't mean we silence or automatically shut down conversation with people who disagree with us. It gives us a compass with which to align the work we are doing to create a more equitable society for our students and ourselves.

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