SPARACIO | Free Speech At Cornell: A Virtuous Theme for the Year   

In American life, it seems that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction: intellectualism and rising anti-intellectualism, eight years of Barack Obama and the election of Donald Trump, large advances in civil rights and the retraction of those rights (e.g., Dobbs v. Jackson). But no neat system of binaries would stand without eventual collapse when faced with a topic like free speech. Society shifts with the demarcations of history and our current reality is the result of many interconnected political and sociocultural factors. 

People coming from nearly all positions of the political spectrum can seem to become exercised over free speech issues. Within the past year, the following types of incidents have thus occurred: the heckling of conservative speakers, debates over trigger warnings, debates over course content (and the expanding canon), student discomfort with specific topics, self-censorship, cancel culture and what some decry as a lack of viewpoint diversity on campuses. Considering that any situation that involves free speech is highly specific, each incident has a unique context and is a unique combination of the phenomena listed above.

On Trigger Warnings and Watching Movies

Asking someone to watch a film that taps into that trauma, in the hope that the difficult material will recontextualize the way they see their experience, risks just as much that it’ll set them back in grappling with said experience.

STANTON | Parental Advisory: Explicit Content

“Parental Advisory: Explicit Content.” It’s a phrase that has embedded itself deep down in the consciousness of modern music audiences, loudly asserting itself in that black-and-white rectangle of moralism on the bottom right-hand corner of all your favorite albums. These days, that little box garners about as much attention as the signature at the bottom of a painting, but its early years sparked a fair share of heated debate regarding freedom of expression, the role of censorship in art and good ol’ family values. Our story begins in 1985, when one Mary “Tipper” Gore purchased Prince’s Purple Rain for her 11 year-old daughter, only to be taken aback by explicit references to sex and female masturbation on the song “Darling Nikki” (“I met her in a hotel lobby/Masturbating with a magazine”). Bewildered by her failure to protect young Karenna from the Purple One’s ode to consensual S&M, Gore (married, at the time, to future Vice President Al Gore) took it upon herself to co-found the Parents Music Resource Center, which aimed to lobby for industry regulations that would increase parents’ control over their children’s access to music. Founded almost entirely by women, the 22-person group became known colloquially and in the media as the “Washington wives” — a reference to the fact that their spouses included 10 U.S. Senators, 6 U.S. Representatives and a Cabinet Secretary. Sexist nicknames aside, this undeniable clout brought instant attention to the cause, resulting in a Senate hearing for the PMRC just five months after its formation.

MORADI | An Inauguration

According to my revision history on Google docs, I’ve written and rewritten this column twelve times. At this point, hitting command + A followed by the delete key is deeply embedded in my muscle memory, and sometimes my fingers nervously twitch in those exact strokes. If I were in a TV show, the camera would show a wastebasket full of crumpled-up papers, then it would follow a trail of more crumpled papers until my desk space appeared in the frame, peppered with (you guessed it) even more crumpled up papers. I would be sitting at the desk with my head in my hands, my hair just messy enough to show that I had been working all day, but neat enough that I’d still reel in sufficient Nielsen ratings. I’ve been obnoxiously referring to this as my “inaugural column” to my friends, who, in turn, immediately stop talking to me.

GPSA Discusses Academic Freedom at Cornell

“If you, as a faculty member, are complained against, the hearing that you go to will be the preponderance of evidence standard,” Stetson said. “If the faculty member raises one of these appeal grounds … then the appeal will require you to show your complaint by clear and convincing evidence, so there’s a higher evidentiary bar to clear when you appeal on these grounds.”

UGARTE | Trigger Warnings: Wrong place, Wrong Time

Arbitrarily, the entire premise of college is to expand one’s knowledge of the world and gain new perspective, both of which can be inhibited without open, uncensored dialogue about controversial topics. While such topics can be difficult to digest for many individuals, certain provoking topics such as sexual assault, cancer and war are the brutal realities of the world in which we live. Although it is not innately effortless to immerse oneself in discussion related to such matters, it is vital that students participate to broaden their educations and perspectives. Thus, while professors should be mindful of the ways they expose students to controversial materials (and perhaps caution students of universally graphic material), they should not be required to administer trigger warnings or options to “opt out” of “triggering” topics. College is not the time nor the place to evade disconcerting topics; allowing students to disengage with materials on the basis that they are not rationally capable of handling such discussions is inimical.