A student at an elite university testified before Congress on Wednesday that faculty are quick to teach students about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion topics but fail to address free speech.
The Committee on Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workplace Development held a hearing titled “Diversity of Thought: Protecting Free Speech on College Campuses” Wednesday morning featuring testimony from several free speech advocates including a Stanford University student. Josiah Joner, a sophomore and executive editor at the Stanford Review, told Republican Virginia Rep. Bob Good that the university teaches students about DEI during freshman orientation, but does not address free speech.
“I don’t think that the average student, a majority of the students really understand what this principle of free speech means,” Joner said. “I’m not seeing it clearly communicated at the university or taught in Stanford’s freshman orientation, which is a week before for all freshman. You have 2,000 students, a week long of seminars, there’s no discussion on free speech. I cannot recall anything I learned in there, so we’re not seeing that but we’re seeing many of these other topics like diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Joner repeatedly cited throughout the hearing an incident that occurred at the university’s law school in early March where students heckled conservative federal judge Kyle Duncan during a student-organization sponsored event about COVID-19, guns and Twitter. Tirien Steinbach, the school’s DEI associate dean, took to the podium during the middle of the event after Duncan requested for an administrator to help silence the room and, instead, berated Duncan for his opinions and asked him to consider if his speech was worth the fallout.
Steinbach, who was placed on leave, recently defended her actions in a Wall Street Journal op-ed and said that she was attempting to “deploy the de-escalation techniques in which [she has] been trained, which include getting the parties to look past conflict and see each other as people.”
Joner told Good that it is incidents like what occurred at the Duncan event that “are destroying the debate in the classroom because students are too scared to speak up” and are worried that university officials will target them. Universities are stuck in a cycle where they apologize to heckled speakers, but the same incident occurs “months” or “years” later.
“That’s only contributing to the cycle in this culture that is destroying free speech, and we need these university administrators who stand for this and stand up for [free speech], once and for all and firmly,” he said.
Speech First Executive Director Cherise Trump, PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel, and Manhattan Institute Director of Constitutional Studies Ilya Shapiro also participated on the panel.
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