Beyond Free Speech

Fostering Civic Engagement at the Intersection of Diversity and Expression

Beyond Free Speech: Fostering Civic Engagement at the Intersection of Diversity and Expression by Carlos E. Cortés

Ten months ago, as a fellow of the University of California National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement, I embarked on an examination of the intersection of diversity and speech on U.S. college and university campuses. In my fellowship application I proposed to conduct a historically based research project to address the following question: over the past fifty years, what factors have driven many higher education diversity advocates to become so opposed to our nation’s tradition of free speech? However, my research quickly convinced me that I had posed the wrong question.

Why? What led to my original error? Because I had been sucked into the reigning dualistic framing of diversity and speech. Only by rejecting that distorting dualism could I more fully understand the dynamic that was occurring.

The process of extricating myself from that conceptual “escape room” gave rise to a more compelling question: how can we foster better civic engagement concerning the intersection of diversity and speech, as well as other forms of expression? My research ultimately led me to the conclusion that constructive civic engagement around this issue is hindered by two factors:

1) a misleading overuse of the term, free speech, including by self-designated supporters of that concept.

2) a lack of understanding of the historical trajectory and complexities of the diversity movement, including by self-designated diversity advocates.

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