Journalist and historian Jelani Cobb, known for his work at The New Yorker, recently delivered a lecture at Brown University on the varied interpretations of democratic values in the United States, specifically free speech.
“When we talk about … the values of
universities and of higher education, we typically talk about the support of
open inquiry, of rigorous intellectual analysis, of dialogue across differing
opinions, of the open pursuit of questioning what we believe we know -- and these
are foundational to universities,” Cobb said. “But universities are not removed
from the values of society.”
His lecture, titled “A Note from the
Margins: The Unsafe Spaces of Democracy,” was the first in Brown’s “Reaffirming
University Values: Campus Dialogue and Discourse” series. Cobb discussed how freedoms
enshrined in the U.S. Constitution are often used to excuse situations that remove
other freedoms from marginalized groups -- for example, the right to due process
being used to justify slavery, or freedom of religion used to justify
discrimination against LGBTQ communities.
Cobb urged attendees not to shy away from
circumstances that are not entirely democratic, or shield themselves in safe
spaces, but to exist within difficult situations to forward the goal of
“This is a difficult charge -- and it’s not
fair -- but it is the same challenge that generations prior to us have
confronted,” he said.
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