Safe spaces, trigger warnings, microaggressions, the disinviting of speakers, the demands to rename campus landmarks and symbols—each of these flashpoints has given rise to heated debates that have raged from lecture halls to the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times and reverberated in social media. A cottage industry has cropped up, in which writers tease student activists on blogs, in national newsmagazines, and in all manner of literature, deriding these young people as “crybullies” and “snowflakes” who feel the need to be protected by institutions from the harmful effects of life in a twenty-first-century democracy. The most serious of these critiques have merit, as student activists have had a tendency to overreach in calling for certain speech to be restricted in their zealousness for change and for a faster route to social justice. But many of the critiques are cheap shots that fail to inquire seriously into the claims of student activists. They tend to obscure valuable points about the importance of free expression and diversity, equity and inclusion. These critiques also ignore the strong support among the majority of students for free expression, free press, the right to assemble peaceably, and diversity that replicates the demographics of the world at large.
We will remember the academic years between 2014 and 2017 as times of turmoil on our campuses. Throughout the academic world, we have struggled to uphold our core values in the face of challenges from inside and outside our walls. This turmoil has taken the form of unrest on our campuses that has put a series of public debates—over race, class, sexual assault, the cost of education, climate change, and many other topics—into the forefront of intellectual discourse in our communities. The election cycle that vaulted Donald J. Trump to victory only exacerbated the tension and polarization of our nation with regard to these core issues. The increased risks facing students traveling from one country to another as a result of changing immigration policies have dampened enthusiasm for cross-cultural study. The pressure of addressing these concerns has occupied the minds of faculty and staff, as well as large numbers of students, as we go about the day-to-day business of teaching and learning.
The events of the past few academic years on many college campuses—including Yale, Missouri, DePaul, Middlebury, Berkeley, and Occidental, among many others—have pulled many of these divisive topics into public debate in ways that are both constructive and distorting. Social media has made matters yet more complex—mostly for the worse. Events that had previously remained localized affairs became national and international incidents, thanks to camera phones, Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat. Hateful speech and the responses to it have spilled over from tiny campuses to the world at large. As these disputes are replayed over and over in a broader context, the meaning of the original events has been distorted for various political purposes.
The thesis of this book is that diversity and free expression ought to coexist. And yet, in recent years, on campus after campus, a false choice has been served up: you are either for diversity, equity, and inclusion in our communities or you are for free expression. The strength of our democracy depends on a commitment to upholding both, even—perhaps especially—when it is hardest to do so. The heightened rhetoric of the 2016 presidential campaign, in which the winning candidate took repeated shots at free expression, diversity, equity, and inclusion, only deepened the need to support these values in academic life and beyond—and to establish mechanisms to ensure that these values persist over the long term.
Diversity and free expression ought to coexist not just on our campuses but in increasingly globalized and interconnected societies at large. Debates over free expression in increasingly heterogeneous environments rage from Russia to China and throughout the Middle East and North Africa, as well as in (relatively) liberal democracies such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and much of continental Europe. States must resolve the same questions as campuses on an ongoing basis: How tolerant can the state be with respect to speech that pushes boundaries? At what point may, or must, the tolerant stop tolerating the intolerant?
In making this argument, I draw on survey research over the past ten years on the topic of free expression, race relations, the freedom to assemble peaceably, and other aspects of the First Amendment. Literature from the fields of diversity and ethnic studies, sociology, education, and the law inform the argument. I draw on my firsthand experience as the Head of School and teacher of U.S. history at Phillips Academy, Andover, a diverse residential high school. I also call on my previous experience as a faculty member and vice-dean at Harvard Law School. The primary audience I have in mind is fellow educators, who must find a good path forward for our communities in a highly charged historical moment.
This topic has urgent, practical ramifications for how we run our campuses and order our societies at large. Tough issues that push and pull on diversity and free speech arise every day, in town squares and on campuses. I will frame the hard, continuously arising questions about where the line between permissible and impermissible speech should be drawn based on our educational goals and values. Every school and university must adopt approaches and policies on these complex topics in every academic year, with ramifications for society at large. And every educational institution should commit itself to teaching our students about the importance of both of these essential concepts and how to grapple with them when they are in tension.
The same challenge that we observe on campuses plays out on the larger scale of states. The rhetoric that propelled Donald Trump to win the presidential election will continue to apply pressure on campuses, as young people learn ways to cope with messages of exclusion of minorities and immigrants, and with attacks on the free expression of individuals and the freedom of the press. When accused of sexual assault, Mr. Trump threatened publicly to sue the women who came forward and the newspapers that covered their allegations. To the extent that President Trump carries out even a subset of the promises he made with respect to exclusion of Muslims, Mexicans, and other nonwhites, these issues will remain front and center in the public consciousness. This public awareness will drive campus activity and student activism, and vice versa.
This short book centers on the choices we, as educators, must make in our academic communities. Our policies with respect to free expression and diversity should be grounded in the missions of our institutions. Context matters enormously. Our schools and universities have many things in common; our institutions also have distinct histories, values, and mission statements. The goals that we establish in educational settings—to teach students material they need to know, impart skills they ought to have, and support them in becoming good citizens—should guide how we set our policy and handle controversies as they arise. The institutional setting and the goals we establish for education must be crucial factors in our decision making.
Institutions have valid reasons to react differently to the challenges associated with free expression and diversity, given the different contexts in which they operate and the different educational goals they intend to accomplish. A high school ought to address these issues differently than a college, given the age and the developmental needs of younger students. A state university or a community college may come by its diversity in a very different way than a private school. A private university founded to uphold, for example, Roman Catholic values, might approach these flashpoints differently than a major public research university. A state, given its police power, must consider the chilling effects of rules that ban certain kinds of speech in ways that are different from the school or university context. Rules, culture, and norms in each of these instances can have major consequences for how effective the learning environment is, who feels welcome in each community, and how people relate to one another, on campus or in the community at large. Wherever possible, our educational goals and values should guide our decision making as institutions—and we should find effective ways to teach the importance of these goals and values to our students.
In the academic year that began in the fall of 2015 and ended in the spring of 2016, student protests and institutional responses dominated our collective consciousness. Student protests keyed off of national movements aimed at social justice, especially the #BlackLivesMatter movement.1 The protests led to extensive discussion, often heated, about a host of race-related matters on campuses. The string of high-profile cases involving the death of black males at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri; Staten Island, New York; Baltimore, Maryland, and elsewhere brought into public consciousness the higher likelihood for a victim of a police shooting to be a black male than a person of any other demographic. Other leading activists during this period, such as the author and professor Melissa Harris-Perry and the leaders of the #SayHerName campaign, have focused attention on the types of disproportionate harms done to black women.2
The essential claims of the student protesters drew on national protests about the importance of black lives—not to the exclusion of other lives, but in addition to the lives of others. Student protests built on these larger claims and extended them to specific issues of campus life: examining the historical and structural racism on campuses, pressing institutions to explore their own pasts in honest ways, and demanding a series of changes to present-day campus life and culture. Students occupied the offices of presidents and other administrators from Princeton to Duke on the East Coast to Occidental on the West Coast. Student demands came together on websites and social media, ricocheting from school to school.3 High school students held events, rallies, and forums in solidarity with their university counterparts.
University presidents and deans responded in a range of ways. By and large, most academic leaders have taken these student protests seriously and have agreed to meet some, though rarely all, of the student demands. In November 2015, Yale declared it would invest $50 million in an effort to improve faculty diversity over a five-year period. Brown doubled that commitment with a $100 million initiative over ten years to create a more diverse and inclusive community. After a long period of study and community conversations, Harvard Law School announced in 2016 it would discontinue use of a shield that harked back to the crest of the slave-holding family of Isaac Royall, the school’s founding donor. Some institutions refused the demands outright. In nearly every instance, the campus activism forced conversations among current administrators, faculty, students, and trustees. These debates also engaged members of the extended alumni bodies of the respective schools in on-campus discussions.
In many cases, the debate strayed from concerns about institutional racism into a debate about free expression. The contours of the conversation varied, but they often took the following form. Protesters expressed their upset over institutional racism or other forms of discrimination. The protesters sought greater support for students of color, increased faculty hiring among underrepresented minorities, cultural competency training for faculty and staff, changes to campus policies, the renaming of buildings, and other diversity-related measures. It was in the process of reacting to these demands that the topic of free expression often arose. This particular connection of diversity and free expression has often been fueled by the national media coverage of campus events. Mainstream news publications, bespoke online blogs, and social media coverage all fanned the flames along the way. Videos captured on smartphones went viral. A hype cycle emerged: it would start with the original dispute, then turn to the campus reaction to the dispute—including statements for and against free expression—and then to the fallout from the reaction, which inevitably drew alumni and families right into the on-campus fray.
On some campuses, those who opposed student demands raised the notion of free expression as they advocated for no change to the status quo. In other cases, opponents accused protesters of stifling free expression when they shouted down those with opposing views; protesters, likewise, claimed that their rights to assemble peaceably and to express themselves had been curtailed. Proponents of guest speakers being barred from campuses, for example at Williams College, claimed that unpopular views could not be expressed in university settings out of an excess of “political correctness.” In other cases, faculty members and students claimed that free expression was not as important as the race-related demands—that the free expression rights should be sublimated to a position below the claims related to diversity. In certain cases, free speech provocateurs manipulated campus events in order to create a forum in which to make their case in the public eye. In some instances, campus protesters fell into the trap laid before them by tearing down the posters of those who advocated a different point of view, only to be accused of opposing free expression. In each of these instances, along these varied routes, the principle of improving the diversity, equity, and inclusion of campuses found itself in opposition to the principle of free expression.
Free expression and diversity are essential components of democracy in the twenty-first century. In the United States, our shared commitment to both principles, especially as they developed in the late twentieth century, ensures that a democracy and the world at large benefit from heterogeneity. These two concepts rely on and reinforce one another.
The arguments in favor of diversity and free expression are not exactly the same, but neither are they unrelated. There are reasons for diversity that have little or nothing to do with free expression; and there are reasons for free expression that have little or nothing to do with diversity. The areas of overlap, though, are plentiful—and they are essential to finding the best path forward. At their essence, both of these ideals support democracy because they mean that societies are educating informed, engaged citizens and seeking to establish a sense of fair play and justice in political systems. While diversity and free expression are too often pitted against one another as competing values, they are more compatible than they are opposing.
The American experiment at its best calls for diversity and free expression to coexist. That coexistence has not been easy, nor has it been all that successful, especially for those who have had less power. The American experience has been a lot easier for whites, males, Christians, heterosexuals, the able-bodied, and the wealthy in particular. And free expression has been interpreted in ways that have tended to support those in authority rather than all people equitably. These critiques of the American experiment are all grounded in historical truth. But it is also true that free expression can serve all of us. Diversity is about self-expression, learning from one another, working together in productive ways across differences, and in turn strengthening our democracy. Diversity that also encompasses and supports intellectual and academic freedom—without condoning hate speech—has enormous force, promise, and importance.
Our commitment to seeking the truth and making sound decisions, in intellectual communities and in the public sphere, relies on the coexistence of diversity and free expression. One of the reasons to have a diverse community—one in which we truly welcome adults and young people with a broad range of racial, class, ethnic, religious, cultural, and political backgrounds, as well as people with a range of gender and sexual orientations—is that they bring various viewpoints that can help a community reach good, moral, and truthful decisions. This range of viewpoints also helps communities reach just decisions that a broad range of people will believe to be legitimate.
As one example, consider the field of journalism and the need for a diverse corps of reporters to serve a multicultural democracy well. Among other things, a democracy depends on a strong, independent field of journalism to function effectively. Journalism enables the public to stay informed about crucial issues in such a way that the people may determine their own best interests. Journalism offers plentiful examples of this concurrent need for diversity and free expression in support of democracy. A well-trained, professional team of journalists—even if they all come from one racial background, say all Latino/Latina—may be able to cover the stories of a large and complex city with a reasonable degree of accuracy. But getting to the truth of what is really going on in, say, that city’s Chinatown section will be enhanced by someone on the staff coming from that neighborhood or from a Chinese-speaking background. At a minimum, that team of reporters would need to rely on sources and informants from Chinatown in order to tell that story with a fidelity to what actually occurred and what it meant. In either event, a diverse set of voices—whether as authors or sources—can lead to a deeper understanding of the truth in a complex environment than a homogeneous group of voices can. In turn, those who rely on this journalism have a greater likelihood of discerning their own true interests and acting accordingly as citizens.4
Or consider the discipline of writing and studying U.S. history, which I teach to high school juniors and seniors at Andover. If virtually all the authorities writing prominent history books are men (as they were for a long time), the likelihood is high that their narratives would extol the great male military and political leaders, not the women and many of the people of color who lived then. The idea behind diversifying the ranks of our history teachers and scholars is that a more diverse group of authors will tell a more complete—and correspondingly more truthful—version of what happened. The point is not to eliminate political and military history or the lives of “great men” from our narratives but rather to include social and cultural history—for instance, as it is told by women or people of color, unwelcome in political and military leadership for much of our history. The point is also not that only African Americans can write about the lives of those enslaved or what it was like to be subject to Jim Crow laws, but rather that having a more diverse group of teachers and authors results in a broader range of perspectives. As the professoriate continues to become more diverse, the narratives that we teach in history are becoming more diverse and richer.
Free expression, likewise, enables us to find the truth. If certain views are unwelcome or barred, then the likelihood that societies will find or embrace the truth diminishes. The extreme case is an authoritarian regime—for instance, in North Korea—where dissent is nearly impossible and the free flow of ideas is nonexistent. If criticism of political figures, whether accurate or not, is disallowed or strongly discouraged—as it is, for instance, in present-day Turkey, Russia, or Thailand—then the likelihood that the truth about their activities will emerge is much lower. When Saddam Hussein received 100 percent of the votes cast in the election of 2002—all 11,445,638 of them—one can reasonably infer that the Iraqi people were not free to discuss the potential shortcomings of the next Hussein administration.5 In the case of the urban journalists, free expression supports understanding of the real dynamics at play in Chinatown. In the case of the historians, free expression enables broader consideration of events and patterns that had previously lain uncovered—and that may have been inconvenient to unearth, discuss, and publish. Without commitment to free expression, the truth is much less likely to emerge. Without a route to the truth, the likelihood of good policy decisions, fair dealing with communities, and just outcomes of disputes is much lower.
Diversity and free expression are linked, too, as principles that lead to higher levels of equity and fairness. The success of these ideals provides legitimacy for a democratic system. One reason to pursue a diverse environment, especially in a school or university setting, is to ensure that every young person has a roughly equal chance at the positive gains possible through education. If a school admits only young people of a single race, gender, ethnicity, faith, sexuality, or type of ability, then the opportunities at that school are not equitably afforded to those with other characteristics. In a knowledge-dominated economy, access to the benefits of education is of fundamental importance. Diversity initiatives—including but not limited to affirmative action policies—aim to ensure that the inequities of the past are not paid for in the future. These commitments ensure that every member of an academic environment feels and is valued for what they offer to the community and can accomplish while in school and afterward. The benefits of addressing inequity on campus connect directly to the degree of equality in the polity at large.
Free expression, in its purest form, is also a driver of equity and justice. Free expression means that no voice is categorically entitled to greater freedom than any other. At the level of principle, freedom of expression is even-handed: it means that the color of one’s skin, or faith, or sexuality should not be a bar to expressing one’s point of view, participating in civic life through speech, and so forth. In practice, in most societies, this form of equity has rarely existed: some people are able to speak louder and more freely than others.
Free expression is linked to a series of other freedoms with similar connections to equity. In the context of the United States, these freedoms are enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution: the right to free speech and a free press, the right to assemble peaceably, and the right to religious beliefs. Alongside the right to free expression, these other rights also protect those who might otherwise suffer persecution: the unpopular minority group has the right to come together peaceably in a community, or to pursue their faith, or to publish their views through a specialized press, or to seek redress from the government. Taken together, these rights have great force on behalf of an equitable society.
The matter, of course, is not as simple as saying that diversity and free expression are mutually supportive concepts, on campus and in society at large. There are serious theoretical arguments to the contrary. There are hard cases that make these principles difficult to reconcile. The hardest cases, customarily involving hate speech, require balancing of competing interests that can leave no one happy.
The most forceful argument, expressed from the political left, against my view that these two principles should coexist comes with the (truthful) claim that the right to free expression arose in the context of inequality. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, for instance, was drafted by white, powerful men of European descent—many of whom enslaved their fellow Americans. Moreover, the interpretation of the right of free expression in the United States has been historically carried out by and large by male judges, often white and well off. Given this history, the right to free expression has been a tool of empowered people, not those who have been marginalized. As such, this counterargument goes, the right to free expression is flawed and less worthy of support than diversity, equity, and inclusion, especially where these two values conflict. While I acknowledge the force of this argument, I think it is less compelling than the claim that the two principles, in a more equitable historical moment, can and should be upheld in common.
Other counterarguments take issue with either the specific application of free expression or diversity or both. It is one thing to make a broad claim about the importance of diversity and free expression coexisting; it is quite another to determine how best to apply them in an actual society.
Free expression, for instance, evokes a range of possible policies, from one in which truly “anything goes” to the constrained version of free expression (which I favor) that is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. This latter vision of free expression calls for limits to free expression in certain circumstances, known as “time, place, and manner” restrictions. Gender and racial harassment, fighting words, obscenity, and libel, for instance, are not protected speech even under the First Amendment. In the context of a campus, the limits to free expression often take another form: disallowing students from using hate speech targeted at another student, for instance. None of these types of restrictions on free expression would bar citizens or students from expressing a political opinion, however unpopular, as long as it does not target or put at risk another person. While some disagree with the idea of any restrictions on free expression, others wish for speech restrictions to further limit or ban certain additional forms of speech.
A similar counterargument might take issue with the forms of diversity that I favor in this book. As in the case of free expression, the views fall along a broad spectrum. On the one end, diversity extends to a strong form of equality and inclusion, brought about by affirmative policies intended to accomplish what proponents refer to as “social justice.” On the other end of the spectrum falls extreme xenophobia—whether expressed by white supremacists or by those who express hatred toward others from a religious viewpoint. For the purposes of this argument, I favor a form of diversity that makes good on the promises of the American ideal: a nation that invites those from all over the world to form a community together, representing a range of backgrounds and viewpoints. On campuses, this ideal means seeking young people from all over the country and the world, from all races, ethnicities, faith backgrounds, sexual orientations, with a range of abilities, and from families with different political viewpoints. Here, too, there are, and must be, restrictions of various sorts. A nation must limit those who can immigrate in certain ways in order to avoid systems being overwhelmed by the sheer number of residents; similarly, enrollment on a campus ought to be limited to a number of students who can in fact thrive in that particular learning environment. Some might agree that this definition of diversity is too generous; others might oppose the limits I suggest or favor more radical policies to accomplish the goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The hardest theoretical problem in holding these two ideals together is not one of definition, as thorny as that can be—it has to do with a paradox at the heart of this combination. One goal of diversity, equity, and inclusion—taken together—is tolerance. These ideals call for a community to enable all members to enjoy equal privileges. This notion of equity is especially hard to accomplish in environments that have been the least equal in the past—for instance, campuses that have only recently been opened to those of a certain gender or race, where intolerance has been the norm for a long time. The paradox becomes evident when someone does not believe in tolerance. The belief they hold—or the expression they wish to convey freely—is that the very idea of tolerance is wrong.
Must a community tolerate intolerance? It is this hard problem that presented itself on so many campuses in the fall of 2015 and again in the presidential election of 2016, and that will remain with us for the foreseeable future. Some campus activists argue for no as an answer to that question. From my perspective, the answer is yes, at least to some extent. Tolerance must extend not only to those who believe in tolerance but also to those who do not. In a democratic system at large, we give votes regardless of a person’s viewpoint. As humans and communities, we learn when we are presented with viewpoints different from our own.
The difficulty with this idea—and the primary shortcoming of the view that we must tolerate some degree of intolerant speech—is that the costs of such tolerance will be borne disproportionately by those who are the targets of the intolerance. In America, those people are likely the same people whose forebears have been the targets of intolerance in the past: people of color, women, those who identify as LGBTQIA+, those who do not identify squarely on the cis-gendered binary (female or male), and those with different abilities. This argument—that we ought to hold diversity and free expression as mutually reinforcing principles—is at its most vulnerable when we consider the disproportionality of the costs of extreme tolerance.
There are ways to mitigate this problem, though it may be a long time (or a rare place) before the problem is fully addressed. The roots of discrimination are long and run deep; they are not easily pulled out of any soil, without trace or likelihood of regrowth.
One form of mitigation is to limit free expression in specific ways. There must be a point at which the tolerant should not have to tolerate the intolerant. One limitation, sensibly included in campus policies, is to disallow hate speech personally directed at an individual. If a member of the community directs hate speech at another individual (rather than at a group), the speech can be subject to restriction and the speaker to disciplinary measures or other recourse. Specific campuses or communities might have narrowly tailored rules along these lines to protect those most vulnerable. It is easy to imagine that rules at a school for young children would be even more protective in this respect than the rules at a high school or those at a university, given the different educational aims of these types of institutions and different maturity levels of their students.
Where a speaker expresses a general political viewpoint, communities must seek to tolerate these expressions, even if she or he preaches something inconsistent with the majority viewpoint on campus. If this political speech is intolerant toward some community members, the response should be to address this intolerant viewpoint with more speech. An affirmative obligation to speak up falls on those who oppose the position. In a civic context, it is imperative that citizens and political leaders speak up to defend the rights of all people in the community. This burden must not fall just on those threatened by the speech; those who already feel the most marginalized, undervalued, or invisible in communities may find it hard to voice their concerns. The burden ought to fall less on those directly affected and more on those who are in the favored position. In the campus context, those representing the institution itself—a college president, a university board chair, or a school principal—ought to establish a point of view that favors tolerance, diversity, equity, and inclusion over hate and intolerance. The best approach for the long run is for the truthful, positive, values-driven viewpoint to be given the chance to win out. The stronger argument should prove more sustainable and more broadly embraced over time if it is contested than if it is merely insisted on without interrogation. To impose a rule against the less tolerant political viewpoint, or to ban that viewpoint from the commons, would have high costs in the long run, but so too does tolerating certain hateful speech on campuses.
In this book, I advance an argument that goes one step further. To the extent that an educational community’s mission is to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion as well as free expression, I believe that sharper limits—including limits that might not be allowed under today’s First Amendment jurisprudence—can be appropriate, as long as these limits are disclosed to students in advance. Just as I argue that obnoxious political speech must be tolerated to a degree, I argue that there should be a limit to the types and ways in which hateful speech may be uttered. The mission of the educational institution must guide the school’s practices in this respect. There is a point at which the educational values of creating a supportive, equitable learning environment are more powerful than the importance of supporting unfettered speech, even when one might do so in the public square. There is a point at which intolerance of the intolerant is not only acceptable but appropriate in a learning community. To find that place in our schools and universities can be a great challenge, but we need systems that enable us to find it. We also need educational systems that teach students ways to engage in debates about free expression and diversity, which they will inevitably face when the leave the shelter of schools and universities.
The debates that raged on campuses in 2014, 2015, and 2016 have ramifications far beyond the walls of any individual school. These debates press us to articulate the purpose of education and the values we espouse as schools. The theoretical implications of these debates also matter to the way societies operate. Campuses are, to a degree, microcosms of increasingly diverse, interconnected communities and societies. When students leave our campuses, they go on to populate and to lead our states, nations, regions, and global communities.
Rapid changes to the manner in which people use technology make this problem thornier. Localized events on campuses today can become public, global events very quickly. The ubiquity of social media, recording devices on nearly every phone, and a political environment in which these topics have important currency have changed the nature of the campus dialogue. Campus protests of the past, too, have had the capacity to create national news—think of the Kent State protests against the Cambodia invasion and subsequent shootings in 1970. Today, far less dramatic encounters can become major news stories, with first-person accounts recorded and published instantaneously to Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube. The rules that relate to technology and speech—particularly in authoritarian regimes—connect directly to this debate as well. To the extent that we fail to build diverse communities capable of tolerating a broad range of speech, it is more likely that regimes will favor xenophobia and restrictions on the open Internet—a technological system that can support the free exchange of ideas and support diverse communities, but that can also be manipulated to accomplish quite the opposite.
Events on campuses directly connect to the town square, to national forums, and to the interconnected global commons. This interconnection is plainly a good thing: our campuses ought to be connected to the world from which students and faculty come and to which they will go. As any teacher knows, a student who feels connected to the subject matter in a larger sense is more likely to be engaged in learning than a student who considers the topic irrelevant. It is essential that these principles can coexist on campuses so that they can coexist in the communities beyond. It is also essential that the young people we are educating today become able to coexist with others in the increasingly heterogeneous environments in which they will live as adults. Much turns on the outcome.
As educators, we ought to create for our students both safe spaces and brave spaces in which they can learn and thrive. By safe spaces, I do not refer to the types of rooms dominated by soft cushions and plush toys that have been decried in the media. Safe spaces are environments in which students can explore ideas and express themselves in a context with well-understood ground rules for the conversation. For instance, a school or university might create a safe space for LGBTQ students in which students know they can discuss issues of sexual identity or gender and will not be made to feel marginalized for their perspective or exploration. The University of Chicago’s Office of LGBTQ Student Life has a Safe Space program that provides such an environment.6 A safe space might be moderated by an adult or peer skilled in understanding particular topics related to the development of the young people seeking that particular environment. A safe space might be a literal room in a building or it might be a periodic session that moves from place to place. The rules and norms that govern the conversation might well be more restrictive than the rules and norms set forth in the First Amendment. Ideally, these safe spaces would also be environments in which students would find support, develop coping skills, and hone effective techniques for communicating with one another in a way that honors tolerance, avoids stereotypes, and cuts down on hate on campuses.
By brave spaces, I refer to learning environments that approximate the world outside academic life. Brave spaces include classrooms, lecture halls, and public forums where the rules and social norms for expression might in fact follow the doctrine of the First Amendment or something close to it, as set by the school or university at large. Brave spaces are those learning environments in which the primary purpose of the interaction is a search for the truth, rather than support for a particular group of students, even insofar as some of the discussions will be uncomfortable for certain students. I would imagine that for students at most institutions, time spent in brave spaces would make up the vast majority of their time during their education. Some spaces might also serve as a blend of the two ideas, with well-articulated expectations set out by the teacher or discussion leader at the outset. The balance between brave spaces and safe spaces would hinge on the specific goals and values of each institution.7
The creation of both brave spaces and safe spaces entails creating environments in which students are at once challenged and supported in their learning. It also calls on us to ground our approach to disputes over free expression and diversity in our institution’s core values—and to communicate that connection with force and clarity through our teaching and our public statements. The policies that we establish in campus communities must be tied to our educational goals. These policies must be clear and understandable to faculty, staff, and students. Our decisions based on these policies are consequential. So, too, are the practices that we favor on campuses. In setting these policies and carrying out these practices, we should resist pitting diversity against free expression. Rather, we should seek to find where they intersect to the fullest degree. We need both of these values to flourish in order to have strong schools, producing good citizens who will go on to live in and lead thriving democracies.