Final William James Forum panel discusses free speech 

By Grace Apostol 

News Co-Editor 

The William James Forum Fund Critical Series hosted a round table talk on freedom of speech which included both Washington College faculty and students.  

Held on April 17 at 5 p.m. in Litrenta Lecture Hall, freshmen Chelsea Elliot, Akshara Oruganti, and Elm Staff Writer Mel Tuerk, sophomores Elm Opinion Editor Riley Dauber and Elm Staff Writer Grace Hogsten, and junior Elm News Co-Editor Sophie Foster, participated in this talk. 

These students sat with faculty members Associate Professor of Spanish and Black Studies, Chair of the Humanities and Fine Arts Division, and Director of the Black Studies Program Dr. Elena Deanda and Associate Professor of English, Acting Chair of the English Department, Internship Coordinator for the English Department, and Director of the Gender Studies Program Dr. Elizabeth O’Connor.  

The round table discussion began with Dr. Deanda addresses the room to welcome them to this session of the critical series.  

“This year we really talked about freedom of expression,” she said. “Which I think is not only a concern not only related to campuses, but also to everything in life.” 

Dr. Deanda went on to discuss how herself, Dr. O’Connor, and Assistant Professor of English Sufiya Abdur-Rahman curated this group of students for the event.  

Each student and faculty was then able to introduce themselves by name, their topic regarding freedom of speech, and major to the audience that came to hear the discussion.  

Foster was then able to introduce their topic of freedom of speech regarding The Elm and being news co-editor.  

“The distribution of news writing, especially on a campus as small and insular as Washington College’s, is really a very complicated and nuanced balance when it comes to dialogue surrounding free speech,” they said. “Obviously, on a baseline level, our work freely and hopefully thoroughly conveys pertinent information to the student body and our surrounding campus and Chestertown community.” 

Also brought up by Foster was Abdur-Rahman’s Journalism Ethics course, which Foster, Dauber, and Hogsten take. Foster discussed how language is important regardless if one is a journalist or not.  

Ending her portion of the talk, Foster said that language is a very important tool. “Personally, I believe our language is the most valuable tool we have — to communicate, to connect, and to resonate, we have to learn how to use it well,” she said. “The things we write or share verbally are things, I believe, to be written and shared carefully and with adoration for the crafting of them.” 

Dauber spoke next, introducing the topic of coverage of different stories within the opinion section of The Elm. Dauber said she covered the story on the miscommunication desktop situation within the Student Government Association and the College.  

“The nice thing about opinion is that we are able to hold the administration and campus accountable and have these dialogues with that,” Dauber said.  

Hogsten also led the conversation with a discussion of journalism, specifically, the fairness and accuracy of the field. “When it comes to accuracy, I think that different perspectives are really important,” Hogsten said.  

She went to discuss a story she recently wrote for the opinion section and related back to the accuracy of journalism. 

“I don’t promise that I’ll write the story in the exact way that the person I am interviewing would write it, but I want to put what they said accurately and present them in a fair way in the way they give the information to me,” she said. 

Taking a different note, Elliot researched hate speech. Elliot said that she found within her research that hate speech has not one sole definition which “causes a lot of issues around the ethics of it.” 

Because of this, Elliot focused on the ethics of hate speech in law. According to her, the Freedom of Speech Amendment and the Equal Legal Civil Rights Amendment relate to hate speech and discrimination.  

Following Elliot, Oruganti had the opportunity to discuss their research on cancel culture in relation to freedom of speech. She said that cancel culture is used in a number of ways, including to bring media off of large platforms like Netflix, and that cancel culture is also seen elsewhere.  

“A big part of cancel culture is in social media,” Oruganti said.  

Tuerk was the last to speak of the student panelists, and introduced political correctness to the conversation. “What’s distinct about political correctness is its reliance on a set of beliefs that had historically been accepted and preapproved as liberal ideas,” they said.  

Each student brought different perspectives of subsets of freedom of speech to the roundtable talk, which is the last event of the Critical Series for the 2022-2023 school year. 

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