Experts to talk intellectual diversity in UNC-Chapel Hill panel discussion

At a politically volatile time in America’s history, what does intellectual diversity mean on the nation’s college campuses? Is it attainable – and if so, is it always desirable?

As both students and faculty  at UNC-Chapel Hill continue to wrestle with issues of speech and political ideology on campus, a panel of experts will come together Thursday to explore the issue on the UNC System’s flagship campus.

The event, organized by the university’s Program for Public Discourse and the General Alumni Association as part of the Abbey Speaker Series, will be moderated by Dr. William Sturkey, associate professor of History. Panelists include Rob Henderson, doctoral candidate in psychology at the University of Cambridge; Amna Khalid, associate professor of history at Carleton College and a fellow at the University of California National Center for Free Speech; Michael S. Roth, president of Wesleyan University and author of Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness.

This discussion follows last month’s student panel on campus speech, prompted by a recent study in which students – particularly conservatives – reported self-censoring on campuses across the UNC System. While Republican state leaders seized on that portion of the study to criticize faculty, they ignored results of the study that showed it was not faculty but their peers who inspired the self-censoring. Political leaders have also failed to engage with the question what sort of thing students may be self-censoring.

In a recent video interview with the Coalition for Carolina, Sturkey spoke to the issue of self-censorship and whether it is actually a threat to speech or intellectual diversity on campus.

“Students overwhelmingly said that professors don’t take hard political stances in classes,” Sturkey said. “We’re often accused of on cable news and the Internet, people constantly talking about indoctrination on our college campuses. I think that what people have really latched on to, now that this indoctrination issue has been disproven, is that students self-censor.”

But everyone self-censors to some extent, Sturkey said.

“And that’s not just out of respect for other people’s views, but that’s out of worrying about what the consequences of saying whatever pops into your head is going to have on your social standing. And so, I just think it’s really bizarre that we take a very common social practice, and we say that this is a crisis in higher education when it’s something that we do in every walk of life, in every institution, every organization in our society. You should not say every single thing that pops up into your mind.”

Thursday’s panel will be held at 5:30 p.m. in the Nelson Mandela Auditorium of the FedEx Global Education Center and livestreamed on Zoom.

Those interested can register here.

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Experts to talk intellectual diversity in UNC-Chapel Hill panel discussion