2019 Symposium to cover free speech and responsible dialogue

Students at Concordia are likely to look forward to an informative experience at this year’s Faith, Reason, and World Affairs Symposium. The event’s headline is titled “Speech: Freedom vs. Responsibility?” and will be presented between Sept. 17-19th, where students will have multiple opportunities to engage in dialogues concerning the state of free speech in today’s society. In many college communities, freedom of speech is regarded as one of the most pressing and relevant issues. This conversation will be particularly significant given the date it falls on: Sept. 17th, which is Constitution Day. 

Symposium will commence at 7 p.m. on that day with the presentation “Why Should We Resist Hate with Free Speech,” delivered by New York Law professor Nadine Strossen. At every annual Symposium, the committee chooses key speakers based on their achievements and diverse perspectives relating to the issue at hand. Strossen is noted for being the youngest and first female president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and for her political involvement in the international stage. As an author, her works have received acclaim from both liberal and conservative academics.

Another key speaker is CBS News correspondent Roxana Saberi, who happens to be a Concordia alum. Graduating in 1997 with degrees in French and communications, she has gone on to work for prominent publications such as National Public Radio (NPR), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and Al-Jazeera. While working in Iran for several years, Saberi was arrested in 2009 under the false charge of being a CIA spy, which led to her imprisonment for 100 days. Given her occupation as a journalist, she will likely provide key insight into the effects of censorship in her field—both here and abroad. Her experience demonstrates how issues relating to free speech can affect not only individuals, but also political relationships.

“We were very fortunate to get the speakers that we did. They are highly sought-after voices on this topic and in their fields,” said associate dean of the college and Symposium chair Stephanie Ahlfeldt. She added that the bookstore will be providing autographed copies of the speakers’ published works.

Dr. Ahlfeldt went on to explain why this issue was so important to the college.

“For those of us paying attention to matters on campus, this seemed like a topic that was very relevant to the lives of our students,” she said. “This is something that people wrestle with—trying to figure out what boundaries exist, and better understanding their relationship to free speech, and their responsibility for responsible dialogue.”

Throughout Symposium, a variety of dialogue sessions will be hosted by either academic departments or specific student groups. Concordia librarian Jennie Archer is leading a dialogue titled “Free Speech and Libraries,” and spoke regarding why this topic is relevant in her field.

“Part of our work as a library is trying to include things from different perspectives. For example, we aren’t just going to include pro-gun rights books or anti-gun rights books—we’re going to include a variety so people can find the information they need to find. That’s something we’re really conscious about when purchasing books,” she said.

Although Symposium will maintain a similar structure compared to previous years, there are some differences. One new feature to the program is the inclusion of a formal debate, sponsored by Concordia’s debate team. Another addition will be an appearance by Moorhead mayor Johnathan Judd to conclude the event.

The students on this year’s committee have appreciated the chance to voice their opinions in planning the event. Junior Kayla Zopfi spoke about her time on the committee and some insights she took away.

“Being on the symposium committee has been such an awesome experience,” she said. “Not only have I had the chance to develop relationships with Concordia faculty and staff members, but I’ve learned a lot about what goes into planning big events like this, and also about the internal workings of Concordia.” 

Zopfi added that along with learning more about the planning behind these events, she appreciated being included in these conversations because “it reinforced the commitment Concordia has made to us as students, where they push us in our thoughtfulness, curiosity, and ability to not shy away from hard conversations.” 

“It was an honor to sit on this committee of smart, encouraging, and passionate individuals, and I am beyond excited to share our hard work with the campus in a few days,” she concluded.

The committee, which is assembled of different representatives from the faculty, staff, and student body, faced several challenges while preparing for the event. One was the constraint of time. While the committee is usually finalized and begins its planning two years before Symposium, this year’s group only had eight months of preparation since January of 2018. This means that the group was unable to have a staged reading. Another difficulty was scheduling around Constitution Day, since many of the committee’s invited speakers had committed to other events. 

One of the most important challenges, according to Dr. Ahlfeldt, was how to address the challenging subject material.

“The topic is a very challenging item. Its controversial, and there are many different perspectives surrounding this idea. But the controversy is why we’re doing it, because it calls for an event like this,” she stated.

“Hopefully,” Archer agreed, “students are able to take away a better understanding of the scope of free speech and the first amendment, a better understanding of their relationship to free speech, and their responsibility for responsible dialogue.”

Students can find more information at https://www.concordiacollege.edu/academics/events/symposium/.  This page provides a comprehensive outline of the planned schedule, including all dialogues, concurrent sessions, and plenary speakers. Symposium will begin late Tuesday night, Sept. 17th with an opening plenary session from 7-9:30 p.m. The next day will have a full schedule, running between 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. This will ensure that no matter what schedule you have, there will be multiple opportunities to engage and participate.

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