Students speak out on Chicago campus, defending their right to do so
Matthew Foldi couldn’t be clearer about what he hopes will arise from the national conference on free expression he and other undergraduate students convened on the University of Chicago campus recently.
“We’re hoping this will kick-start a grassroots, student-centered movement to reinforce the values of free expression,” Foldi told the Chicago City Wire.
The conference attracted scores of students and scholars from some of the most prestigious institutions in the country.
Foldi, a 20-year-old political science major from Bethesda, Maryland, said the idea for the nonpartisan event came to him in the wake of all the protest shutdowns and violent outbursts that have plagued political events and ideologically themed speeches on college campuses in recent days.
“All speech should be allowed,” he said. “But from coast to coast, we’ve been seeing more gatherings turn violent just because people don’t want to hear what others with different viewpoints have to say.”
Without freedom of expression, Foldi worries that universities across the country will cease to be places of learning. He said the world-renowned University of Chicago seemed like a natural choice for the conference given its rich history of upholding such freedoms.
Twenty-two students from 14 schools led the discussion, participating in numerous sessions with political and legal experts that led to the creation of a statement of principles in support of free expression.
“Students came from all over to be here, and some of them had to leave right out as soon as the event was over to be back on their campus in time for finals,” Foldi said. “But they felt it was important to be here, so they found a way to make that happen.”
Foldi acknowledged that not everyone agreed on a lot of what was said, other than the fact that all of them had the right to express themselves.
“We respected one another’s opinion, even when we disagreed,” he said. “We all should be able to hear people with opposing viewpoints. After the 2016 election, that’s more important than ever.”
Foldi worked with school officials for months to pull everything together, which made quite the impression on many of the event’s out-of-town spectators.
“All the other students were shocked that administrators allowed people to air out their differences in front of so many students,” Foldi said. “Things here aren’t perfect, with some protests even being shut down over the last year, but the environment is better than most.”
Speakers at the two-day event included Geoffrey Stone and Randal Picker, both law school professors, and David Axelrod, director of the school's Institute of Politics and former adviser to former President Barack Obama.
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