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A word from CAS Department Head: Denise Solomon

In recent weeks, some leaders and citizens have responded to unfolding events in the United States by highlighting the principle of free speech. Free speech is an important value, embedded in our constitution, but the Department of Communication Arts & Sciences knows that both speech and silence have consequences. We also know that only for the privileged among us are speech or silence entirely matters of choice.
 
Statements that affirm the right of free speech are neither unusual nor noxious, but they assume rights are equally available and that good intentions are a sufficient warrant for inaction. Quite the contrary, rights of speech and silence have never been distributed to, enacted by, or protected for everyone in our community. Just recently, we have seen that some college students can choose to display, utter, or enable hate speech; a university president can explain the lack of institutional response to that speech; a sitting senator can occupy a prominent place in the nation’s newspaper of record to advocate for the violent suppression of dissent. These are people whose speech is given credence and protection. Meanwhile, others who speak against racial injustice, gather to protest, or take a silent knee are denigrated, assaulted, or stripped of their livelihood.
 
In the Department of Communication Arts & Sciences, we recognize that appeals to the right of free speech must contend with centuries of policies and sometimes violent practices aimed at silencing specific individuals and communities in this country. Appeals to the right of free speech must acknowledge that when we protect the speech of those who silence others, those others are never heard. Appeals to the right of free speech must stand alongside a manifest commitment to listen to voices that have been silenced, to amplify their messages, and to contest those who speak in defense of racism, oppression, and injustice. Appeals to the right of free speech must accompany action designed to make those rights equally accessible, equally protected, and equally valued for those whose right to speak has been so long denied.
 
In this and every moment, Black lives matter. And every day, Black lives are in peril. Eradicating individual and structural racism requires interrogating the right of free speech – understanding whom it protects, recognizing how it has been denied to so many, and using positions of privilege to prioritize the right of free speech for those to whom we most need to listen.