Speech vs. Diversity, Diversity vs. Speech – by Carlos E. Cortés

Carlos Cortes
ADR Advisor Dr. Carlos Cortes

 Edward A. Dickson Lecture
University of California, Riverside

In February, 2018, I began a new scholarly odyssey.  I became an inaugural fellow of the University of California National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement.

In my fellowship application I proposed the following question: “over the past fifty years, why have so many diversity advocates become opposed to our nation’s hallowed tradition of free speech?”  However, I soon discovered that I had asked the wrong question.  Instead my question became “over the past fifty years, what has happened when two worthy values collide: inclusive diversity and robust speech?”

Today I invite you to accompany me on part of my personal odyssey.  This involves two acts followed by a brief epilogue.  Please join the conversation by posting questions and comments in the chat box.  I’ll also pause for a few minutes of discussion following each of the three segments.  And if the digital gods should step in and freeze me for a minute or so, please hang around.  Like the Terminator, I’ll be back.

Act One will focus on speech, primarily through the lens of diversity.  Act Two will address diversity, primarily through the lens of speech.  In the epilogue, I will suggest what I think lies ahead for the intersection of diversity and speech.

Act One: Speech

My research began with a deep dive into scholarly literature.  I’ve been involved in diversity for half a century, so at first I emphasized free speech scholarship.  Initially I found it interesting, but not surprising.  Most free speech scholars extol free speech; a few oppose the concept.  Then I began paying more attention to unexpected angles in their arguments.  I’ll give you examples from four books.

John Palfrey, a former Harvard law school professor and now president of the MacArthur Foundation, wrote Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces: Diversity and Free Expression in Education.  Suddenly up jumped the following sentence: “The First Amendment is often assumed to do something that it does not: to grant an affirmative right to free expression to all people.”

So I opened my handy pocket Constitution and re-read the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.”  In other words, as Palfrey points out, the First Amendment does not guarantee free speech.  Rather it creates a wall between government and the individual.  However, it does not prohibit private speech-restraining activities.  As it turns out, even the wall against government restraints is somewhat porous.

Then there is Hate: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship, by Nadine Strossen, former president of the American Civil Liberties Union.  Strossen begins by making a  compelling argument about the difficulty of defining and identifying hate speech.  Then, in Chapter Three, she shifts her perspective and argues that hate speech codes are unnecessary.  Why?  Because there are already numerous legal restrictions on speech, including hate speech.  In other words, to build her case against hate speech laws, Strossen presents evidence that our current speech is not actually “free” of legal restraints.

The more I read, the more the caveats piled up.  In his Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech, political scientist Keith Whittington asserts “free speech can thrive only under conditions of appropriate regulation.”  In Campus Hate Speech on Trial, philosopher Timothy Shiell opposes most speech restraints, but nonetheless indicates that “no serious participant in the hate speech debate believes all speech regulations must go.”

So I began writing down examples of laws and court decisions that restrict speech, all taken from books defending free speech.  Before long I had two pages of government restrictions that exist despite the First Amendment.  Here are a few examples.

***slander

***libel

***defamation

***fraud

***vandalism

***bias crimes

***true threats

***fighting words

***punishable incitement

***sanctionable harassment

***invasion of privacy

***facilitating criminal conduct

***incitement to unlawful action

***revealing national security secrets

***creation of an unsafe working environment

***in special purpose facilities

***restricted by time, place, and manner

***speech integral to already-criminal conduct

***specific imminent objectively ascertainable serious harm.

Repeating.  These government restrictions on speech exist despite the First Amendment.  All taken from pro-free speech books.

Then I noticed something else.  Free speech is used in all kinds of ways.  To make sense of the language terrain, I decided to categorize the different uses of the term.  Ultimately I concluded that free speech is generally used in the following four ways, as well as in one hybrid form.

First, casual street talk.  Like, I believe in free speech.  What about my free speech?  I’ve got the right to free speech.  Off-handed.  Relatively mindless.  No harm, no foul.

Second, free speech as virtue signaling.  People continually say free speech to let others know that they’re on the side of the angels.  This includes jamming the word “free” into a statement when just plain “speech” would be more accurate.  Even diversity advocates do that, which creates inconsistencies.  For example, some diversity trainers teach about microaggressions in order to change the way people speak.  Then they add that, heaven forbid, they aren’t suggesting that people should self-censor.  Of course they want people to self-censor.  That’s why they teach about microaggressions.

Third, the aspirational ideal of free speech as analyzed and debated by scholars.  Most of these scholars, but not all, support the idea of free speech.  In fact, this ideal provides the basis for free speech absolutism.

Free speech is presented as the supreme value from which good eventually emanates.  It must be defended at all costs, even if this leads to horrendous real-world consequences.  That’s the price we pay for freedom.  But most diversity advocates do not support paying that price.  Hence, the inevitable clash between diversity advocates and free speech absolutists.

Finally free speech as used in discussions of the First Amendment.  This brought another surprise.  Obviously free speech absolutists support the First Amendment.  But not all First Amendment defenders support free speech absolutism.  They may be passionate in opposing government interference with speech.  But in situations where the First Amendment does not apply –- that is, when not prohibiting government action — many First Amendment supporters, like myself, are open to non-governmental speech restraints in the pursuit of such goals as equity and inclusivity.

Consider the difference between public and private institutions of higher education.  When it comes to speech restraints, private institutions are not bound by the same constitutional limitations as public institutions.  The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, one of the nation’s most passionate defenders of free speech, states the following: “. . . if a private college wishes to place a particular set of moral, philosophical, or religious teachings above a commitment to free expression, it has every right to do so.”

As a former professional journalist and as someone who lived for nearly two years under a military dictatorship, I am delighted that the Constitution provides protections against government interference with speech.  But let’s not overstate what the First Amendment does.

This led me to yet another question.  Since the First Amendment does not prohibit speech restraints, except for those emanating from government, how do those non-governmental restraints actually work?  Pursuing this question led to an entirely new section in my book-in-progress, “Speech vs. Diversity, Diversity vs. Speech.”  That section examines how speech restraints actually function, particularly when infused with diversity ideas.

Moreover, I’ve been collecting cases of speech being restrained and punished in various ways, sometimes driven by diversity principles.  Every day I do early morning research, reading newspapers, newsletters, ezines, etc.  Nearly every day provides new instances of people getting burned because they exercised their supposed “free” speech rights.  Some days I encounter speech restraint mechanisms that I had never previously considered.

Ultimately, like Oedipus, I could not avoid the inevitable conclusion.  In the walk-around world of daily life, separate from scholarly debates and legal analyses, free speech simply does not exist.  As a dimension of real-world activity, free speech is a myth.  Actually, a dangerous myth, because the false belief that individual speech is actually free deludes people into saying and writing things, then having to suffer the unexpected consequences.

Finally, there is one important complementary hybrid issue: academic freedom.  More accurately, academic prerogatives, since we faculty don’t enjoy total speech freedom either.  Scholars of academic freedom disagree about what academic freedom actually covers and what relationship it has to free speech.  Some scholars even argue that academic freedom is actually antithetical to free speech, because professors rightfully establish and enforce restrictive rules for classroom discourse, research papers, and examinations, all expressions of speech.

So, with that prelude, let’s take a look at how our system of unfree speech actually works, particularly when informed by diversity.  Consider the recent experiences of four men: Jon Gruden, Bright Sheng, Sean Glaze, and Mark Zuckerberg.

Jon Gruden recently resigned as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders football team.  Why?  Because it was revealed that over the years, using his supposed “free” speech, Gruden had sent racist, homophobic, and misogynistic emails to leaders of the organization once known as the Washington Redskins.  The public uproar was too much.  Spokespeople for the Raiders publicly assured the world that the Raiders were an “inclusive” organization.  They actually used that virtue signaling word.

Sheng Bright is a distinguished University of Michigan musicologist.  To illustrate how Giuseppi Verdi had adapted Shakespeare’s Othello into an opera, Bright showed his class the 1965 film version of Othello starring Sir Laurence Olivier in blackface playing the title character.  Another uproar, this time involving students and faculty.  So Bright “voluntarily” withdrew from teaching the class, not only because of his original pedagogical decision, but also because of the critical reaction to the way he framed his multiple public apologies.  His dean sent a clarifying email that “Professor Sheng’s actions do not align with our School’s commitment to anti-racist action, diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Sean Glaze is less well known.  But he did earn a track and cross-country scholarship from Cincinnati’s Xavier University.  Then it was revealed that he had once tweeted the following words: “In America you are allowed to be racist as long as you don’t act on it.”  He also said that some Black Lives Matter protests were more violent than Ku Klux Klan rallies and used the N-word in some of his posts.  Xavier rescinded not only his athletic scholarship, but also his college admission, while publicly stating: “Xavier remains committed to maintaining a community that supports all of our members as we cultivate lives of reflection, compassion, and informed action.”  Sean Glaze joined the ranks of dozens of young people who have forfeited college admission and scholarships for incorrectly thinking that they actually had free speech.

Three disparate cases, selected from the hundreds that I have amassed, with four common elements.  All three people exercised their supposed “free” speech.  All three got bitten because of it.  In all three cases, the organizations publicly employed a diversity-related explanation.  Finally, none of the three men had broken a law.  However, they had run afoul of organizational principles.

I call these principles “soft restraints” because they do not provide clear sets of do’s and don’t’s.  But they’re not soft in their impact.  Ignore these sometimes-stated, sometimes-unstated principles at your own risk.  In fact, soft restraints may actually play a more powerful role than hard restraints in making speech unfree.

But there are also hard restraints.  This brings us to Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook.

When the internet began, it was ballyhooed as the epitome of free speech.  Then along came hate speech, troll storms, doxing, false information, and internet mobs.  Pressure mounted to do something about this, with diversity advocates among the leaders.

Congress responded by passing Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.  In effect, it established a rule that as long as internet companies made good faith efforts, they could not be held liable for blocking inappropriate content.  In other words, Congress out-sourced censorship.

The results?  Facebook now enforces “content moderation” –- Facebook would never say censorship — although its inconsistent global application of stated guidelines has been subject to withering criticism.  The last report that I saw indicated that Facebook now has more than 1,400 pages of content rules that are applied to posts by some 15,000 “moderators.”  15,000 employees hired specifically to restrict your speech.  Even Twitter, which once branded itself as “the free speech wing of the free speech party,” has now adopted guidelines that could have come directly from the diversity playbook.  Users:

***“may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.”   

  We can debate the rightness or wrongness of each of these examples and the gazillions more that occur every day.  In fact, I write about these issues in my monthly diversity-and-speech column in the national ezine, American Diversity Report.  But it all adds up to the following three unavoidable conclusions.

First, America has a powerful system of speech restraints.  They may be governmental or private.  They may be hard or soft.  But they certainly obviate freedom.

Second, in the past half century, diversity has become a significant dimension of that historical speech restraint system.  I’m delighted that diversity has elevated the importance of such communitarian values as equity and inclusivity.  At the same time, however, I am dismayed by some of the egregious applications of those principles.

Finally, at the level of walk-around daily life, free speech simply does not exist.  And if people misguidedly act as if it does exist, they may ultimately pay the price, such as losing a job or being denied a professional license.

That’s why my scholarly odyssey convinced me to no longer use free speech as a term for the reality of daily life.  Instead I argue for robust speech balanced by such diversity principles as inclusivity and equity.

So with that, I want to shift my focus from speech to diversity.  But before I move on, let’s take a few minutes for a couple of questions and comments.

Act Two: Diversity

Act Two.  Curtain going up.  Let’s shift our focus to diversity and its relationship to speech by addressing two questions:

***how has the idea of diversity developed over the past fifty years?

***in what ways has diversity challenged speech?

Once again I dove into scholarly literature, this time on diversity, but that dive turned out to be pretty shallow.  Turns out, there hasn’t been much written about diversity writ large.

Oh, there are thousands of books on various categories of diverse groups.  Lots of books and articles dealing with nooks and crannies of diversity.  Plenty of books featuring diversity in their titles.  But not one major study that successfully addresses the fundamental question: how did an inert dictionary term emerge from those musty pages and, within a half century, become an ideological behemoth and an omnipresent buzzword?

Short answer: because of the diversity movement.  A movement with lots of moving parts, many of them related to separate efforts concerning race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and other social categories.  But also a movement that has become far, far greater than the sum of its parts.

The diversity movement almost defies description.  No all-encompassing organizational structure.  No official leadership.  No precise date of origin.  No single founding document.

Simply a movement, a motley, multi-dimensional collection of individuals, groups, and organizations clustered around one basic goal: to change American society.  To change it in one particular way: by reducing societal inequities that penalize people because of the groups –- usually historically marginalized groups — to which they belong.

Let me repeat.  The diversity movement is a half-century-long decentralized, constantly-growing, continuously-innovating insurgency that seeks to reduce societal inequities imposed on historically marginalized groups.  It’s a complex, dynamic phenomenon that resists efforts to flatten, homogenize, and stereotype it with such lame labels as politically correct, cancel culture, snowflakes, or woke.

The diversity movement actually consists of five parallel but at times intersecting currents.  In fact, I added the fifth current just a few weeks ago.  Let me briefly walk you through those five currents, how each approaches speech, and some of the vigorous speech-related clashes that have been occurring within the diversity movement.

First, intercultural diversity, which dates back at least to the 1920’s.  It emphasizes intercultural relations, perceptions, and communication, particularly involving diverse world cultures.  But when the ethnic revitalization movement exploded during the 1960’s, some interculturalists began addressing the domestic scene: intergroup relations; intercultural sensitivity; and cultural competence.  According to interculturalists, people should learn to voluntarily modify their speech to better communicate with those from other cultural backgrounds.  Notice the intercultural emphasis: voluntary action.

But isn’t that self-censorship?  Sure.  And that’s why I believe in self-censorship.  But let’s lower the verbal temperature.  I believe in what sociolinguists call self-editing.  I grew up in the Midwest in the 1940’s.  My folks taught us that verbal self-restraint was common courtesy.  Interculturalism adds another dimension: a recognition of diversity, including speech practices rooted in different group traditions.  So hurray for intercultural self-editing.

Second we have the equity-and-inclusion strand, probably the most widely known dimension of the diversity movement.  Today the most common expression of this strand is diversity, equity, and inclusion.  But because I’m using diversity as the umbrella term for the overall movement, I refer to this strand simply as equity and inclusion.  It grew out of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.  Only later did the terms diversity, equity, and inclusion become popular.

At first the emphasis was on activism around individual social categories like race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, and disability.  They tended to operate separately.  Yet during the 1970’s these separate strands began to mutually inspire each other, exchange ideas, and sometimes create alliances.  Over time there were also clashes.  For example, the current TERF war between transgender advocates and what are being called trans-exclusionary radical feminists.

In some respects, equity and inclusion drew upon the ideas and language of interculturalism.  For example, take kindergarten-through-twelth-grade multicultural education.  But inclusionists were also more concerned with issues of equity, including within speech.  What inequities are built into historical and current language use?  How might changes in language use help to broaden inclusivity and achieve equity?

This created tensions.  Intercultualists sometimes viewed inclusivist efforts as insufficiently grounded in an understanding of intercultural dynamics.  Inclusivists sometimes criticized interculturalists as insufficiently concerned with power differentials, structural impediments, and social justice.

In contrast to voluntarism-oriented interculturalists, some inclusionists support speech prohibitions and favor sanctions for language deemed oppressive or exclusionary.  At least one major university has considered punishments for people who use the wrong gender pronouns.

But when it comes to a direct assault on speech, inclusionists are wimps compared to the third strand of the diversity movement, critical theory.  Like the first two diversity movement currents, critical theory’s roots stretch back historically, in this case to the 1920’s and the Institute for Social Research at Goethe University Frankfurt.  Today we hear lots about Critical Race Theory, but it is only one strand of critical theory.

Critical theorists argue for a deeper, more skeptical analysis of the structures of inequality, dominance, and oppression.  This includes all elements of society: laws, systems, and cultural practices.  Nothing is sacred, including speech.  More than any of the other four diversity currents, critical theorists refuse to bow to the idea of free expression as an assumed virtue.

Some mainstream intercultural and inclusionist organizations began to adapt, at least performatively.  For example, the National Association for Multicultural Education launched an initiative to spotlight Critical Multicultural Educators.  I serve on the advisory board of the Journal of Critical Mixed Race Studies.

Critical theorists also took dead aim at the concept of “free” speech.  Many view the defense of free speech as a regressive strategy to reinforce inequitable group power differentials.  They champion greater legal restrictions and punishments for certain forms of expression.

Still a fourth diversity thrust gained traction in the 1980’s.  This was the concept of “managing diversity,” a term often credited to organizational theorist R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr.  It is based on the idea of integrating diversity into systems — or systematizing diversity — leading to the appointment of organizational diversity managers, most prominently, chief diversity officers.

This created a dilemma.  Diversity managers might be rooted in ideas of interculturalism, equity, inclusion, and/or critical theory.  But they also had to accept one other imperative of employment: to serve and protect the institution.  This required balancing acts, including where speech was involved.

Some managerialists have tried to find a sustainable middle ground: for example, taking a public stand against expressions of hate while at the same time defending the right of “free” expression.  But increasingly this middle ground frustrates more aggressive diversity advocates.  Some of them criticize diversity managers as institutional lackeys, or worse.

At first, I conceptualized the diversity movement through those four lenses.  But about a month ago I added a fifth strand,  therapeutic diversity.

This strand, too, has historical roots.  In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association officially recognized PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It took this action partially in response to pressure from such cohorts as Holocaust survivors, women’s rights advocates, and Vietnam veterans’ organization.    Our recent misadventures in the Middle East further exposed PTSD as something dreadfully real.

The idea of trauma ultimately penetrated the diversity movement.  Some diversity trainers now conduct what they call “trauma-informed” workshops.  And not just individual trauma.  It can be passed down as intergenerational trauma.

And those traumas can be triggered.  How?  Among other things, by speech.  Ergo, diversity training in which participants learn about things they should avoid saying, for example, things that may be viewed as microaggressions.  And since traumas can be triggered in the classroom, professors are being urged to include trigger warnings in their course syllabi.

However, therapeutic diversity has received criticism from within the diversity movement.  Some critical theorists deride it for obsessing about personal feelings, thereby distracting from more important issues like inequitable structures and systemic racism.  Other diversity advocates, like myself, are concerned that emphasizing mistake avoidance and trying to “disinfect” the speech environment actually undermine robust discussions of diversity issues.  Disinfectionism even frightens some diversity supporters, who fear crossing some invisible speech line and getting “called out” for their efforts.  Better to remain silent.

I co-direct the University of California, Riverside, School of Medicine’s new curriculum in Health Equity, Social Justice, and Anti-Racism.  I taught my first class this month.  At the beginning I announced that my class would be a “Safe Space for Unsafe Ideas.”  We’ll see how that goes.

As you can see, the diversity movement is no monolith.  However, all five strands are concerned with modifying speech.  And each has adopted a distinctive approach to speech restraints.  Let me wind this up by proposing one fundamental speech-related challenge raised by each strand.

***Interculturalists: how can we create more respectful communities and institutions by educating people to become more voluntarily sensitive in their use of language?

***Inclusionists: how can we create more equitable and inclusive communities and institutions, even if this involves selective restrictions and even sanctions on expression?

***Critical theorists: how can we change the current legal system by challenging free speech, which is basically a mechanism for maintaining group power imbalances?

***Managerialists: how can we balance the imperatives of both diversity and speech within institutional structures and the current legal system?

***Therapeutics: how can we disinfect the speech environment to eradicate language that might trigger personal traumas?

So with that, let’s bring down the curtain on Act Two and open the floor for a few minutes of comments and questions before I move into my epilogue.

Epilogue: The Future

So onto my epilogue.  To this point I’ve emphasized the past and present.  Now let’s look into the future, drawing upon what we know about the past and present.  Two things strike me.

First, the diversity movement faces a new and maybe formidable challenge.  The movement has always faced obstacles and opposition, but it has persevered, grown, and effectively disseminated its ideas.  Now, for the first time, diversity faces a dynamic, belligerent, well-focused counter movement.

I’m speaking of current efforts to challenge Critical Race Theory: CRT.  At least it poses as opposition to critical race theory.  In fact, it opposes diversity writ large.

Some dozen states have passed what are being called anti-CRT bills because they purportedly prevent educators from “inculcating” critical race theory on their students.  These anti-CRT state laws focus mainly on K-12 education, where teacher prerogatives are more fragile than for higher education faculty.  However, in states that have passed these laws, even college faculty are feeling a chilling effect on their speech.  This is particularly true for non-tenured and temporary faculty with no security of employment.

These bills strive to do two things at once: undermine speech, particularly teacher prerogatives; and restrict teaching about diversity.  One strategy is by banning something called “divisive concepts” while using legal language that could have been borrowed from a therapeutic diversity handbook.

Consider wording that has become popular in these bills, a ban on saying things: “that any individual should feel or be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological or emotional distress on account of that individual’s race or sex.”  Of course, this could include anything that might bother White students, who need to be protected from exposure to such trauma-triggering concepts as racism, slavery, and segregation.  To help make certain that this does not happen, some state bills explicitly allow students to record classes, without teacher permission, to use as evidence of infringements.

This introduces still another dimension of the American speech restraint system, one I have merely alluded to: threat restraints.  These bills are intended to scare the hell out of teachers.  The best way for teachers to remain unscathed is simply to avoid mentioning anything about diversity.

Moreover, city council and school board members are now being targeted.  In the last year people have descended on school boards in opposition to the teaching of Critical Race Theory.

Of course, people have the right to criticize, including Critical Race Theory.  But these meetings have gone well beyond criticism into disruptions and threats, often forcing school boards to relocate or cancel their sessions.

In a recent letter to Governor Gavin Newsom, the California School Boards Association appealed to him to urge law enforcement officers to provide better protection.  “I’ve watched in horror as school board members have been accosted, verbally abused, physically assaulted, and subjected to death threats against themselves and their family members.”  The National School Boards Association has asked President Joe Biden to intervene against individuals and groups who threaten educators.

That’s the bad news.  Bad for diversity.  Bad for speech, particularly teacher speech.

But I also see some good news in the area of diversity and speech.  Diversity advocates and speech defenders are beginning to stake out common ground, maybe nudged by a common threat, the anti-CRT movement.

They are coming together around one basic principle: that robust speech (not free) and inclusive diversity (not disinfectant) can work together because both are fundamental to our nation’s future.

Diversity and free speech are incompatible because remaking the speech environment to reduce anti-inclusivity speech is a fundamental goal of the diversity movement.  But diversity and robust speech are compatible –- maybe natural allies — provided that speech defenders relinquish their free speech absolutism and diversity advocates restrain themselves from trying to disinfect the speech environment.

Scholars are exploring how to bring speech and diversity together.  In her splendid book, Free Speech on Campus, Sigal Ben-Porath, chair of the University of Pennsylvania’s Committee on Open Expression, posits the concept of “inclusive freedom” as an avenue for enhancing both equity and speech.  Philosopher Eamonn Callan has imaginatively paired the concepts of “dignity safety” and “intellectual safety” in an effort to detoxify the discussion of safe spaces.

The American Civil Liberties Union, historically one of the nation’s foremost defenders of robust speech, has become the site of vigorous internal debate over this issue.  Following the 2017 Charlottesville incident, 200 full-time ACLU employees signed a letter criticizing the organization’s policy of defending all speech.  The letter stated, “Our broader mission –- which includes advancing the racial justice guarantees in the Constitution and elsewhere, not just the First Amendment –- continues to be undermined by our rigid stance.”

David Cole, the organization’s national legal director, said recently that the ACLU addresses these tensions “not by abandoning any of our core commitments, but by acknowledging and confronting the conflicts in as forthright, inclusive and principled a way as we can” without giving any of its principles “automatic privilege” over other principles.

That is a giant step away from free speech absolutism.  Some have criticized the ACLU for moving in this direction.  Not me.  I applaud the ACLU for its actions.  This is a welcome move into the twenty-first century, because it recognizes that both speech and diversity must be supported and defended, while being balanced as values.

I am currently involved in a wide variety of public, media, and civic education ventures.  A number of them are pursuing a constructive balance between robust speech and inclusive diversity.

As a consultant to numerous organizations, including colleges and universities, I now advise them to avoid proclaiming virtue signaling commitments to either free speech or diversity until they have wrestled simultaneously with the following two questions.

***In order to foster greater equity and inclusion, what limitations on speech should be considered?

***In order to foster abundant and robust speech, in what respects should personal and group discomfort, offense, and maybe even pain be recognized as inevitable aspects of institutional life?

The personal odyssey that I have been sharing with you has drawn me into a situation that I could not have envisioned five years ago.  Now when I participate in free speech events and champion the need to balance speech with equity and inclusion, some view me as a diversity mole.  When I participate in diversity events and defend robust speech, some view me as a neoliberal stalking horse.

So be it.  As long as I’m being criticized by both free speech absolutists and diversity disinfectors, I’m exactly where I want to be.   __________

I wish to thank the University of California National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement and the Edward A. Dickson Endowment for supporting my diversity and speech project.

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Dr. Carlos E. Cortés

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