Panel to discuss inclusion, free speech at Middlebury College this Thursday

MIDDLEBURY — Since students shouted down a conservative commentator during a campus presentation last March, Middlebury College has been pushing back against accusations that some at the liberal arts institution don’t respect — or even suppress — free speech.
Middlebury College and PEN America are collaborating to present a panel discussion this Thursday that will focus on issues facing Middlebury and other colleges and universities across the U.S. — questions of inclusion, diversity, and free speech.
The event, titled “Whose Freedom, Whose Speech? The Future of Community and Free Speech at Middlebury,” will take place in Wilson Hall in McCullough Student Center at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 11. The panel is open only to Middlebury students, faculty and staff, but members of the public may watch the livestream in Dana Auditorium or online at go.middlebury.edu/stream.
Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America — an organization of writers dedicated to free expression — will moderate the dialogue. The following individuals, including two Middlebury alumni, will serve as panelists:
•  Roberto Lint Sagarena, director of Intercultural Programs and associate professor of American Studies, Middlebury College.
•  James Lyall ’02, executive director of the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU.
•  Elizabeth Siyuan Lee ’17, campaigns strategist for Coworker.org.
•  Nabiha Syed, assistant general counsel of the online news and entertainment site Buzzfeed.com.
Middlebury College President Laurie Patton and Nossel will offer opening remarks. Panelists will provide an overview of current First Amendment law related to campus speech, followed by a discussion of whether Middlebury and other private colleges and universities should abide by the same rules even though they are not legally required to, or what other factors should be considered instead.
The forum will close with a Q&A with the audience.
The panel is part of Critical Conversations, a series of events launched in the fall of 2017 by Middlebury College that is designed to bring together and focus the attention of the college community on pressing issues of public interest.
The series included a presentation by a white man and his African American friends and their childhood experiences of racism in the South, as well as a bipartisan discussion on how best to build the American economy that featured former New Hampshire governor and White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, a Republican, and former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, a Democrat.
PEN America is a nonprofit organization that works to protect open expression, and the freedom to write in the United States and worldwide. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Founded in 1922, PEN America is the largest of more than 100 centers worldwide that form the PEN International network.
Over the last couple years, PEN America has turned its attention to free expression issues on university and college campuses. In October 2016, it released a study, “And Campus for All: Diversity, Inclusion, and Free Speech at U.S. Universities,” presenting a set of recommendations for how campuses can preserve free expression while also addressing the real concerns of students who feel marginalized or threatened. PEN is now engaged in a national effort to foster dialogue across difference on college campuses. 

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