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Difficult questions road sign
March 22, 2018+Richard Prystowsky
+Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)+Open Inquiry

Uncomfortable Questions Up For Discussion

At the January 2018 annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, Scott Jaschik (CEO and Editor of Inside Higher Ed) and Linus Owens (Associate Professor of Sociology at Middlebury College) joined me for a panel presentation entitled “Free Speech, Critical Inquiry, and Diversity Empowerment in the Academy: Under Threat, or Under-Allied”? The goal was to help session attendees gain a deeper understanding of these issues and find practical, concrete ways to advance diversity empowerment within the context of free speech, viewpoint diversity, and critical inquiry/critical thinking.

Preceding Scott’s and Linus’ presentations, my part of the discussion was aimed at raising a number of important but difficult and often uncomfortable questions regarding free speech, critical inquiry/critical thinking, and diversity empowerment—questions that I present below for use in classrooms or lessons or to stimulate discussion among peer groups:

  • If Critical Inquiry/Critical Thinking and the good-faith free exchange of ideas can advance diversity awareness and empowerment, can they also undermine it?
  • Is free speech a necessary given on college campuses?
  • What happens when a college or university gives a “reprehensible” view a “legitimate” platform?
  • What lessons are we teaching students if we allow them to shout down speakers or otherwise prevent speakers from being heard?
  • Should colleges try to protect students from being exposed to views that might offend or upset them?
  • Does “lived experience” have a role to play in critical inquiry/critical thinking? Might a reliance on it help or hinder the good-faith free exchange of ideas?
  • Should the federal government become involved in the issues at stake here? What can we learn from other countries’ governmental involvement?
  • In the Academy, should some views simply be excluded from discussion? If so, who is the arbiter of that decision? And, is there a cost to the decision?
  • How can we help students strengthen their minds, nourish their hearts, and empower their voices so that they become empowered to serve as actively engaged citizens working to help change the world for the better?
  • In terms of the previous question, how can we help students avoid becoming attached to their ideas? How can we help them avoid becoming ideologues with respect to their ideas?
  • Do we ourselves model good critical thinking for our students (in our classes, for example) and for our colleagues (in department meetings, for instance)? Do we openly and genuinely welcome challenges to our views?
  • Is it really okay to be different?
  • Or, is it okay to be different, as long as you’re not?

Please join the conversation. What do you think of these questions? Are there others that should be included in the list?


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