“Say What? Examining Free Speech at App State” series to feature Toussaint Romain, panel discussions


The Appalachian Online

Christina Beals, Reporter

An App State free speech seminar series plans to continue the national conversation on the balance between exercising First Amendment rights on college campuses and maintaining respect for students and faculty.

In its second year, “Say What?” plans to address how to approach expression that belittles or degrades others, what types of speech people may perceive as threatening, how freedom of speech can be protected for all community members and whether or not policy should be implemented to address free speech.

From Nov. 12 to Nov. 16, the series will feature panel discussions, talks and forums hosted by guest speakers.

The week-long series features keynote speakers Toussaint Romain, who will discuss public protest and law enforcement, and Stewart Harris, who will speak about understanding First Amendment rights at a public university.

There will be events throughout the week that involve student participation, such as “So You Want to Protest?” for student activists on Thursday, Paint Your Peace, and a Student Government Association civic engagement open discussion on Friday.

Chief diversity officer Willie Fleming is a member of the “Say What?” organizing committee and helped in coordinating the event logistics.

Fleming said he sees the series as critical opportunity for the App State community to have important conversations on free speech, regardless of how difficult they may be.

“It is important for college campuses like this to develop students’ critical thought process, as college is often an environment in which discussions are challenging and students are moved out of their comfort zones,” Fleming said in an email.

Fleming said the “Freedom of Speech: Just watch what you say…” discussion panel on Tuesday will take questions on free speech from students, and panelists representing SGA, the history department, Multicultural Student Development, the political science department, Office of General Counsel and the anthropology department will discuss them.

In light of recent hate speech incidents on App State’s campus, such as the anti-semitic language spray-painted in the free expression tunnel in September and the white supremacy banner hung on campus in fall 2017, Fleming said he hopes students will use submitted forum questions to voice their concerns about campus hate speech.

Department of Justice and Government Studies chair Phillip Ardoin is on the “Say What?” organizing committee. He said the department is involved because the series coincides with App State’s Constitution Week, which was postponed due to Hurricane Florence.

“(Freedom of speech) has been an issue that has always been important on college campuses, but I think over the last couple of years, it has drawn a particularly heightened level of attention on our campus and college campuses throughout the country,” Ardoin said.

Ardoin said he thinks  “Say What?” helps the App State community better understand free speech and its limitations.

“Unfortunately, I think a lot of individuals throughout the country see free speech as their right to say what they believe, but when it comes time for people to voice opinions that they don’t support, they want to shut down free speech,” Ardoin said. “Unless you can prove (immediate threat), we have to allow that speech to occur.”

Department of Student Engagement and Leadership director Jeff Cathey oversees the team of directors for campus activities and is the SGA co-advisor.

Cathey said in an email that he hopes to see increased awareness on what free speech means on college campuses and App State’s commitment to upholding free speech for its students and faculty.

For more information on “Say What?” events, visit the Diversity and Inclusion at Appalachian website.

Story by Christina Beals