A group of students taking a political science course
about free speech has developed a campus-wide event to raise
awareness about the First Amendment, and to discuss strategies for dealing with
speech that is controversial or even offensive.
“Can They Really Say That? Surviving Free Speech on a
College Campus” is free and open to the community, and will take place at
6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 24, in room 126 of the Humanities and Social Sciences Building.
The event is one of several hosted by the IUP Free Speech Project throughout
this academic year in honor of IUP’s Year of Free Speech.
“Can They Really Say That?” is a roundtable-style discussion
planned and coordinated by students enrolled in an upper division course on the
First Amendment’s protection of the freedom of speech, taught by Gwen Torges of
the Political Science Department, who is also a member of the Free Speech
In addition to the students who will be leading the discussion,
the program will include IUP President Michael Driscoll and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer and Title IX
Coordinator Elise Glenn, director of the IUP Office of Social Equity.
“My students have studied the cases in which the US Supreme Court
has interpreted what the First Amendment protects,” said Torges. She explained
that the First Amendment has been interpreted very broadly in the United
States, and protects controversial speech, including offensive speech and
“While students appreciate the value of protecting speech with
which they vehemently disagree,” said Torges, “they also know and want to
formally acknowledge that hate speech can cause real harm and exacerbate divisions.”
When told that one of the assignments for the course was to plan
an event related to the constitutional protection of free speech, students insisted
that their event go beyond explaining that the First Amendment protects
offensive speech. “They told me that they wanted to focus on helping students
develop strategies for how to deal with speech that makes people uncomfortable,”
Torges said. She approved the idea, and
students spent many hours, both in and out of class, planning all aspects of
the event, including effective ways of promoting it.
“They really want other students to take an interest,” said
Torges. They’re hoping that others who have questions or concerns related to
free speech will share them by sending a Tweet using #IUP1stAmendment.
More information about
the Free Speech project is available on Twitter @IUPwordsmatter or on Instagram