TEDx: The Importance of Free Speech

By: Dominic Macasiray ’20

Bellarmine hosted the TEDx free speech event on Friday, October 6. Four speakers, Father Steven Privett, Mr. Zachary Wood, Mr. Nico Perrino, and Dr. Mary Beth Boyer, shared their perspectives on the topic.

Father Steven Privett, a former Jesuit president for the University of San Francisco, credits the formation of his understanding on free speech to his experiences at USF and Santa Clara University as well as his interactions with students on both campuses.

“The most relevant experience would be my time as provost at Santa Clara University and president at USF. There’s very little understanding of the educational value of having contrasting ideas,” he said.

Mr. Zachary Wood, a senior at Williams College, shared how his childhood and his relationship with his grandparents shaped his perspective on free speech.

“My grandfather was a child psychologist, and my grandmother was an educator/teacher, so my grandmother taught me how to read when I was three,” he said. “She always encouraged me to ask questions and explore my intellectual interest, so that carried over into college as far as things that I chose to pursue.”

A common thread among the talks was the role of free speech during challenging discussions. All of them collectively agreed that there is a correct way to discuss individual opinions in a difficult conversation.

“I think trying to understand the other point of view and trying to have the presumption of good will is a great way to address these problems,” Nico Perrino, director of communications at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said. “Use these discussions as a learning opportunity.”

To make the process easier, Dr. Mary Beth Boyer, an educational law consultant, shared her opinion on how to approach difficult discussions in the classroom.

“I think teachers should feel obligated to listen to each side, each student, and each purpose. I encourage students to have clear and concise presentation of ideas with the support of evidence or something other than emotion,” she said.

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