Nadine Strossen discusses free speech at iREAD lecture


On Tuesday, Oct. 11, the Center for Student Success and Retention presented their first face-to-face iREAD lecture since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lecture featured Nadine Strossen, professor at New York Law School and author of “HATE: Why We Should Resist it With Free Speech, Not Censorship,” which discusses the debate between hate speech and free speech.

Alan Bearman, dean and Sean Bird, associate dean of University Libraries & the Center for Student Success and Retention, worked with their committee to plan this year’s iREAD. The committee meets often to read and discuss books that have been suggested to them and then chooses the book with the greatest relevance to Washburn.

The committee took an interest in Strossen’s book, as they’d recently been focusing on topics such as free speech, intellectual and academic freedom as well as censorship. They found these topics essential to Washburn students, faculty and staff.

This year’s lecture was formatted as an interview. Bearman asked Strossen questions relevant to the topic of free speech and her book. In this interview, Strossen mentioned why free speech is such a crucial topic.

“We know that speech is the essential prerequisite for advocating all of those other rights,” Strossen said. “If we do not have the freedom to raise our voices, by ourselves or in association and assembly with other people to petition Congress for redress of grievances for all of these first amendment rights, then we’re not going to make progress on any of the other rights.”

Strossen also discussed the importance of free speech within the classroom. Many students and faculty fear that their free speech will be perceived as hate speech. As a result, they are not able to have transparent discussions within the classroom.

Clifford Ball, freshman in business and finance, expressed his thoughts on free speech in colleges after reading Strossen’s book.

“I think there’s been a history of censorship, specifically in colleges over the past year. So many of the examples in professor Strassen’s book were universities where speech was suppressed in one way or another,” Ball said. “I think specifically for university students to hear it is really helpful because they can even hold their teachers and superiors accountable.”

Nathan Walker, freshman in mathematics and computer science, spoke on free speech being important to show opposing perspectives.

“It’s just important because it gets people thinking about other people that disagree or agree with them. It gets you thinking about different perspectives, different viewpoints and different beliefs,” Walker said. “You can be friends with people even if you don’t believe what they believe.”

Strossen also discussed social media and how they can limit the free speech of their users. She added that cancel culture also constricts the free speech of others.

After Bearman finished his interview, the floor was opened up to the audience to ask questions. Certain members of the crowd asked Strossen for her opinion on different cases where free speech could be considered hate speech. Strossen believes that free speech should be protected no matter the case in order to maintain the rights of all people.

The Center for Student Success and Retention found this lecture to be successful and informative for Washburn students. They plan to continue their iREAD lectures and invite all students to attend next year.

Edited by Glorianna Noland, Rakesh Swarnakar