Political speech has been weaponized in this country. It has impacted everything from our freedom of speech to our academic freedom on campus. These wide-ranging effects and opinions were highlighted in the college’s Constitution Day event. On September 22nd, Siena College hosted their annual Constitution Day Panel entitled “The Effects of National Political Polarization on Free Speech, Academic Freedom and Civility in Discourse: A Discussion” at Serra Manor. This year’s panelists included the Times Union editor Casey Seiler, Siena College President, Christopher Gibson, and student moderator Sami DeRagon. The audience proposed eloquent questions after the initial opening comments from both panelists and the first questions from Dr. Leonard Cutler, the Director of the Center for the Study of Government and Politics, the Pre-Law advisor, and a Professor in the Political Science department, and Ms. DeRagon. During this panel, the discussion ranged from topics such as how much our government should be involved in schools, the censorship of social media, freedom of speech in academia, and government reforms like term limits.
Both President Gibson and Mr. Seiler highlighted how the censoring of social media had affected our society. When asked about the censoring of social media by a student, Seiler spoke of Twitter’s banning of former President Trump from their platform; this allowed Trump and his followers to expand their social media presence through speaking out about this issue. Since some followers were banned, they began to use other platforms such as Parlor to spread their views and opinions. While the use of specific sites only lasted for a few months, their impact was felt for longer. When relating the censoring of social media to campus life, the student discussed how social media made it easier to find out about events on campus connect with others. Throughout the panel, the idea of academic freedom was present: students could express their views freely and, in doing so, continue their education.
As a community, Siena is trying to promote these values by providing a well-rounded education that will help the students of the future by encouraging diversity of thought. According to President Gibson, a well-rounded education must include debate. When there is a debate, it allows students to hear both sides of a view. As a professor, President Gibson implements this in his classes by providing his students with one article written from a conservative point of view and another from a liberal viewpoint; this allows his students to hear both sides of the argument. He believes that we have this opportunity as Saints because we have access to both perspectives from our professors to other classmates, allowing us to compare and form our views. Siena wants to continue to have an open space where students can discuss political views and use their first amendment rights within their education. As a community, freedom of speech benefits both social development and one’s education as a whole. A highlighted aspect of how the college implements this is by creating spaces for the students to share feedback, not only in classes but in events like this one. When students are able to ask the panelists questions, they are able to share their own views. When the community comes together to discuss differing viewpoints, it gives perspective and enables us to listen and form better opinions.