By Kelsey Rogers, Assistant Living & Arts Editor
A free discourse forum was held on Aug. 29 at 7 p.m. in Degenstein Center Theater. Hate speech and how it should be interpreted was the topic of discussion at the president’s forum. The forum hosted a full house of students, faculty and staff that were encouraged to be proactive in asking questions re- solving conflict around freedom of speech and hate speech.
This was the first in a series of open forum discussion to be held throughout the academic year, featuring a 90-minute conversation moderated by As- sistant Dean of Intercultural Engagement Dena Salerno and Chaplain Scott Kershner.
Panelists in the forum were Susquehanna faculty members: Nick Clark, Michele DeMary, Laura Dougherty, Jeff Mann, Laurence Roth, Hasanthika Sirisena, Apryl Williams, and Coleen Zoller.
Clark, Sirisena, Jacobson and Mann each delivered five- minute remarks before the following question and answer period from the audience.
“The debate, however, about how we respond to these [neo nazi protestors] seems to have changed somewhat, shifted within the last two weeks” Clark said in his opening ad- dress. “The tenor surrounding this whole protest really took on a new level with the reaction of President Trump.”
“And whether you support the president or not, it’s pretty clear that’s where there was suddenly a shift in how we were reacting to what is going on,” Clark continued.
Sirisena told the audience how hate speech affected her personal life, stemming from her youth when her parents emigrated from Sri Lanka.
“It is humiliating,” Sirisena said. “I am a tough person and smart, but I’ve never had a good comeback.”
Sirisena shared her experiences to let others who have been affected by hate speech to know that they are not alone. “As far as I’m concerned, you are, every one of you, welcome here,” Sirisena said.
Sherry Jacobson approached freedom of speech from a disciplinary perspective. She elaborated on how speech is never free in the sense of being restricted by authority.
“Freedom isn’t a static possession, but rather a set of conditions constantly in flux,” Jacobson said. She said that as a community, we have a unique opportunity to make a decision on what is okay.
Jeff Mann said he would be happier if people stopped using the term hate speech entirely.
“This is by no means an effort to undermine the damage that speech can do, the awful things that are said in our society,” Mann said.
He explained that who decides what is and is not hate speech is a dangerous situation due to only those in power being in control.
After the panelists delivered their presentations, microphones were open at either side of the theatre for students to ask the panelists questions.
Students could also opt to submit a written question on a note card.
Students asked the panelists about how to approach hate speech from multiple perspectives, including from a stand- point of sociology and philosophy. Two students also asked the panel how they felt about using art as a form of counter protest, in reference to a video of a tuba player marching alongside neo-Nazi protesters.
Marquise Richards, a senior at Susquehanna University, posed the question of what is being done in order to protect students on campus from hate speech and the dangerous situations that follow suit.
“I expected the forum to be more of a tangible conversation when we were being gathered. I know that it would be more of a dialogue that would occur, students to want to go into the forum with hard-hitting questions that would be directed at the safety necessary against hate speech,” Richards said.
“Those expectations were not met until I asked the question at the end to actually challenge the panel,” Richards continued “I was disappointed in how it became more a philosophical conversation about hate speech, rather than get- ting a better sense of how the administration would be able to tackle a subject, particularly for students of color.”
Richards would like the conversations to continue with having more transparency in procedures that will be happening in the community.
“I keep hearing ‘we have plans in place,’ except I don’t see any of those coming to fruition anytime soon.” Richards said. “I’m tired of the hypotheticals, but I want to see strategic and proactive practices being put into place.”