KENTtalks series breaks down free speech

Joshua Budd, a sophomore integrated social studies major, asks a question to the panelists at the KENTtalks panel on free speech in the Tri-Towers Rotunda Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017.

Brandon Bounds

Students, faculty and staff members came together Wednesday in the Tri-Towers Rotunda to discuss free speech without censorship or restraint.

As part of the KENTtalks series, the program provides students a space to talk about difficult topics and promote civil discourse.

The goal of the event was to give students a better understanding of how to disagree respectfully, how to handle difficult situations surrounding social justice issues and how to be encouraged to serve as advocates and ambassadors for civil discourse and unity.

Amy Reynolds, the dean of the College of Communication and Information, moderated the discussion. Representatives from several organizations were featured as panelists, including: Black United Students, Model NATO, College Republicans, the Kent chapter of Turning Point USA, PRIDE! Kent, Students for Justice in Palestine and Young Americans for Liberty at Kent State University.

Reynolds opened up the discussion with a small lecture on issues regarding the First Amendment, including viewpoint discrimination, libel, true threats and obscenity. She also pointed out hate speech is protected by the First Amendment.  

Reynolds brought up a point on how to combat hate speech.

“First Amendment scholars will tell you the only way to combat speech you don’t like is with more free speech,” Reynolds said.

Iniah Dunbar, a senior sociology major and the president of BUS, responded to Reynold’s statement.

“(More free speech) can create dialogue that actually helps, but it’s not always the case,” Dunbar said. “The other party must be willing to cooperate to listen to other ideals and we can go from there.”

The conversation shifted to a question about whether it would be a good idea for the government to restrict free speech. Connor Hren, a junior marketing major, disagreed with this ideology. 

“I don’t think the government should intervene,” Hren said. “Just because you have free speech does not mean you should oppress others. We need to hold ourselves accountable.”

Students also discussed trademark disparagement, the power of social media and libel, along with its effects on campus safety.

Lamar Hylton, the dean of students in Kent State’s Division of Student Affairs, said he was impressed with how the discussion went.

“I could not be more pleased and inspired,” Hylton said. “I’m inspired because it’s easy to discourage about the lack of civil discourse and the students have demonstrated a smart and thought-provoking conversation that can help move the dial forward.”

Brandon Bounds is an enterprise reporter for TV2. Contact him at [email protected].