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Critical conversation discusses power of free speech

Chloe Phillips

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A panel discussion is lead by Syreeta Greene, director of equity inclusion and multicultural affairs, on the topic of first ammendment rights on a college campus during Critical Conversations: “Degrees of Freedom: Is Free Speech Free?” held in the Multi-Purpose Legacy Room where 25 people were in attendance. Photo by Rachel Johnson

To discuss the legal and conceptual aspects of freedom of speech, the Office of Equity, Inclusion and Multicultural Affairs personnel brought a panel of faculty members to the critical conversations series program on Feb. 19 in the Legacy Multipurpose Room.

The panel included Donovan Irven, philosophy visiting assistant professor, Angela Cartwright, curriculum and learning assistant professor, Linda Veazey, associate political science professor, Andrea Button, sociology assistant professor, and Jim Sernoe, mass communication department chair and associate professor.

Irven was invited to the panel by Button because of his discipline and interaction with the necessity of this freedom.

“This is a really pressing and important topic that’s impacting us right now that’s happening on campus with some of the flier-ing that has been going on,” Irven said. “It’s a conversation that needs to happen in a sort of thoughtful and conscientious way that I thought together collectively we could all hopefully bring about.”

According to Irven, some fliers around campus included hate speech directed toward other students, and though free speech is an inalienable right, it “always comes with certain responsibilities,” he said.

“There are rights that should be handled with care and that burden you a certain responsibility,” Irven said. “[Jean-Paul] Sartre, a French existentialist, said ‘people are condemned to be free,’ which means that our freedom burdens us to have to make these choices that are weighted with consequences that shape us as how we are as people. So, no it’s not free in the sense that it comes with these heavy responsibilities for us to be able to interact and respect one another.”

For Button’s discipline of sociology, she said they view free speech in two parts: structure and culture, and both factors fuse together to to create what Americans recognize as free speech and culture.

“Structure is laws, it’s policies, it’s institutions, it’s buildings and it’s all of those things,” Button said. “Culture is why does it look the way that it does? This culture is what it informs, what those things are gonna look like.”

Button further explained how sociology “is tasked with studying the culture of why” and how it breaks down in two different forms.

You have ideal culture and your real culture. Ideal culture is this is what we say we are: “We’re a nation of freedom, we’re a nation of equality, we’re a nation of free speech, we’re a nation of xyz ideally. Ideal culture is abstract, ideal is something that you hope to have,” Andrea Button said.

Although the rights and freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution are extended to all American citizens, Cartwright said people view the First Amendment in an individualist point of view, and not as an extension to others. When talking about freedom, Cartwright said people will default to “really fluffy stuff” where people think they can do whatever they want without considering how it will impact those around them.

“Particularly in the United States, we have this very individualistic idea of what freedom means: it’s about my rights and don’t you dare infringe upon them,” Cartwright said.

According to Greene, current society views individuals as more important than people as a whole, which causes a division between people.

“If people see it as ‘It’s my right and I can do with that right as I please,” without any consequence or without any concern for others who may be impacted by their free speech, then it’s always going to be about what I want and not what’s best for the greater good” Greene said. “The idea of individualism vs. collectivism is in the DNA and is in the thread of America.”

Because that thread is ingrained in Americans “for the past 200 years,” Green said she isn’t sure there is enough energy or time to change our behavior, but with time, she said, we can always move forward.

Because America was founded on these values, Veazey said freedom of speech is “central to democracy” and one of the ways to measure democracies is to think of “tolerating dissen,” and how Europeans hate speech is “usually limited” in comparison to America.

“That doesn’t mean that they don’t have freedom of speech in European union countries, they certainly do, but they have an idea of limits that we don’t,” Veazey said. “The basic premise of a lot of our legal tradition has been that words by themselves don’t hurt unless they’re incorporated with action.”

Through that incorporation, Sernoe, said the “first amendment is not absolute,” and consequences to actions and words are met through legal jurisdiction.

After being exposed to the multiple angles free speech offers, Catherine Stepniak, psychology and sociology senior, said free speech is an issue she cares about, but when talking about free speech, Stepniak said hate speech “inevitably” comes up and hate speech has been directed towards minority communities as such as the black community.

“I loved the event because of how many perspectives it brought up and I thought it was a pretty good turn out, I mean, the room was filled,” Stepniak said. “I learn more about the legal aspect as a sociology major, we’re generally talking about the ideal vs. real culture and to go into the legal aspect was interesting.”

The next Critical Conversations will be March 26 and April 23 from 4—5:30 p.m.

MORE INFORMATION

Critical Conversation: Freedom of Speech

A panel discussion is lead by Syreeta Greene, director of equity inclusion and multicultural affairs, on the topic of first ammendment rights on a college campus during Critical Conversations: "Degrees of Freedom: Is Free Speech Free?" held in the Multi-Purpose Legacy Room where 25 people were in attendance. Photo by Rachel Johnson
A panel discussion is lead by Syreeta Greene, director of equity inclusion and multicultural affairs, on the topic of first ammendment rights on a college campus during Critical Conversations: "Degrees of Freedom: Is Free Speech Free?" held in the Multi-Purpose Legacy Room where 25 people were in attendance. Photo by Rachel Johnson
Syreeta Greene, director of equity inclusion and multicultural affairs, leads the panel discussion on first ammendment rights and freedom of speech on a college campus during Critical Converstaions held in Legacy Multi-Purpose Room, Monday Feb. 19, 2018. Photo by Rachel Johnson
Syreeta Greene, director of equity inclusion and multicultural affairs, leads the panel discussion on first ammendment rights and freedom of speech on a college campus during Critical Converstaions held in Legacy Multi-Purpose Room, Monday Feb. 19, 2018. Photo by Rachel Johnson
Jim Sernoe, mass communication chair, speaks on how you must handle the reprecussions to what you say, whether good or bad, because you are held liable for what you say as a part of our right to freedom of speech, during Critical Conversations: "Degrees of Freedom: Is Free Speech Free?" held in Legacy Multi-Purpose Room, Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. "Well no where in the first ammendment does it say you won't have consequences for what you say...this has really been magnified on social media," Sernoe said. Photo by Rachel Johnson
Jim Sernoe, mass communication chair, speaks on how you must handle the reprecussions to what you say, whether good or bad, because you are held liable for what you say as a part of our right to freedom of speech, during Critical Conversations: "Degrees of Freedom: Is Free Speech Free?" held in Legacy Multi-Purpose Room, Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. "Well no where in the first ammendment does it say you won't have consequences for what you say...this has really been magnified on social media," Sernoe said. Photo by Rachel Johnson
Andrea Button, sociology assistant professor, is apart of the panel discussion in Critical Conversations where they talked about first ammendment rights, specifically freedom of speech, in the Legacy Multi-Purpose Room, Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. "Things look the way they are...because our culture has maintained, proclaimed, and enabled it," Button said. Photo by Rachel Johnson
Andrea Button, sociology assistant professor, is apart of the panel discussion in Critical Conversations where they talked about first ammendment rights, specifically freedom of speech, in the Legacy Multi-Purpose Room, Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. "Things look the way they are...because our culture has maintained, proclaimed, and enabled it," Button said. Photo by Rachel Johnson
Linda Veazey, associate political science professor, talks about how freedom of speech can played on both sides of any argument or situation during the panel discussion at Critical Conversations held in the Legacy Multi-Purpose Room, Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. "It's what we call norms verses rights. You have the right to say something, doesn't mean that's the ideal thing to say," Veazy said. Photo by Rachel Johnson
Linda Veazey, associate political science professor, talks about how freedom of speech can played on both sides of any argument or situation during the panel discussion at Critical Conversations held in the Legacy Multi-Purpose Room, Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. "It's what we call norms verses rights. You have the right to say something, doesn't mean that's the ideal thing to say," Veazy said. Photo by Rachel Johnson
Angela Cartwright, curriculum and learning assistant professor, speaks about having to sacrifice individual rights for the greater good as a part of Critical Conversations panel, where they discussed first ammendment rights, specifically freedom of speech, Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. "we all know that there have to be limits on our individual rights for the greater good," Cartwright said. Photo by Rachel Johnson
Angela Cartwright, curriculum and learning assistant professor, speaks about having to sacrifice individual rights for the greater good as a part of Critical Conversations panel, where they discussed first ammendment rights, specifically freedom of speech, Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. "we all know that there have to be limits on our individual rights for the greater good," Cartwright said. Photo by Rachel Johnson
Donovan Irven, philosophy visiting assistant professor, speaks on how great of an opportunity students of Midwestern have being at a liberal arts college and gaining a broad education at Critical Conversations: "Degrees of Freedom: Is Free Speech Free?" held in Legacy Multi-Purpose Room, Monday,Feb. 19, 2018. "The idea that education is this instrumental thing [just] to get a job and make money is this profound and deep protrayal to what you [the students] are doing here and what you have the opportunity to do here," Irven said. Photo by Rachel Johnson
Donovan Irven, philosophy visiting assistant professor, speaks on how great of an opportunity students of Midwestern have being at a liberal arts college and gaining a broad education at Critical Conversations: "Degrees of Freedom: Is Free Speech Free?" held in Legacy Multi-Purpose Room, Monday,Feb. 19, 2018. "The idea that education is this instrumental thing [just] to get a job and make money is this profound and deep protrayal to what you [the students] are doing here and what you have the opportunity to do here," Irven said. Photo by Rachel Johnson
A panel discussion is lead by Syreeta Greene, director of equity inclusion and multicultural affairs, on the topic of first ammendment rights on a college campus during Critical Conversations: "Degrees of Freedom: Is Free Speech Free?" held in the Multi-Purpose Legacy Room where 25 people were in attendance. Photo by Rachel Johnson
A panel discussion is lead by Syreeta Greene, director of equity inclusion and multicultural affairs, on the topic of first ammendment rights on a college campus during Critical Conversations: "Degrees of Freedom: Is Free Speech Free?" held in the Multi-Purpose Legacy Room where 25 people were in attendance. Photo by Rachel Johnson
A panel discussion is lead by Syreeta Greene, director of equity inclusion and multicultural affairs, on the topic of first ammendment rights on a college campus during Critical Conversations: "Degrees of Freedom: Is Free Speech Free?" held in the Multi-Purpose Legacy Room where 25 people were in attendance. Photo by Rachel Johnson
A panel discussion is lead by Syreeta Greene, director of equity inclusion and multicultural affairs, on the topic of first ammendment rights on a college campus during Critical Conversations: "Degrees of Freedom: Is Free Speech Free?" held in the Multi-Purpose Legacy Room where 25 people were in attendance. Photo by Rachel Johnson
Latoya Fondren, mass communication junior, asks the only question in the talk-back portion of the Critical Conversations: "Degrees of Freedom: Is Free Speech Free?" held in the Legacy Multi-Purpose Room, Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. Photo by Rachel Johnson
Latoya Fondren, mass communication junior, asks the only question in the talk-back portion of the Critical Conversations: "Degrees of Freedom: Is Free Speech Free?" held in the Legacy Multi-Purpose Room, Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. Photo by Rachel Johnson

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About the Contributors
Chloe Phillips, Reporter
Chloe Phillips is a Reporter for The Wichitan. Chloe is in her third year majoring in mass communication with a minor in journalism. She transferred to MSU Fall 2017 from Lone Star College- North Harris in Houston, TX. Her specific areas of interest are fashion journalism, investigative reporting, and watching Apple Keynotes.
Rachel Johnson, Photo Journalist
Rachel Johnson is a photographer for The Wichitan. Rachel is in her fourth year in mass communication with a minor in broadcasting. She started getting into photography her freshman year of high school, then took a photojournalism class and a yearbook course where her passion for photography only grew. She has been working for The Wichitan on and...
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