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UNC-Chapel Hill students discuss free expression on campus in public forum

As both students and faculty wrestle with speech issues on campus, a panel of undergraduates came together this week for a discussion on free expression and the environment on campus at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The “Can We Talk?” panel, organized and co-sponsored by the Program for Public Discourse and the university’s Political Science department, was instigated by a recent report on speech issues on UNC-campuses. Mark McNeilly, a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill’s business school and a co-author of the report, gave a brief run-down of his team’s research before moderating the panel.

The four students on the panel said their experience largely lined up with the report’s findings – including not feeling pressure from faculty to conform to certain political views but recognizing their fellow students might judge or socially shun them for their views, leading some to self-censor.

Still, the students said, socializing and debating with those with whom they disagree is an important part of their college experience.

“I just think it’s a good exercise and it helps you get better,” said Cho Nikoi, a history major. “Whether it’s your critical thinking skills or your ability to present arguments. It’s just a good thing to do that, especially as students in school, where we’re doing that every day.”

Maddux Vernon, a double-major in Political Science and Peace, War & Defense, said she finds it helpful to talk – and even debate – with people with whom she disagrees, as long as it remains constructive.

“The best way to do it is to make these conversations normalized and know when to end the conversation once it becomes not productive,” Vernon said. “I think far too many students self censor because they know… it will get into an ugly dog-fight that may lead to them losing friends, may lead to their peers having a lower opinion of them. Which I don’t think is productive.”

Much of her generation isn’t great at coming to compromises, Vernon said, which can be essential to having healthy conversations and leaving the topic when it’s clear disagreements aren’t going to be resolved.

See the entire panel discussion here.

The Program for Public Discourse will hold its next discussion on October 6 as part of its Abbey Speaker Series. The panel discussion, on intellectual diversity in higher education, will be moderated by Dr. William Sturkey, associate professor in UNC-Chapel Hill’s History department.

Details on that event can be found here.

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UNC-Chapel Hill students discuss free expression on campus in public forum