Freedom of Speech

“Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.” – Benjamin Franklin


Each year, the Goldfarb Center chooses an annual theme that informs and shapes our programming. This year the Goldfarb Student Executive Board selected freedom of speech. We plan to cover a range of issues related to free speech ranging from constitutional rights, the role of social media and big technology, resisting hate speech, and campus policies. We will be bringing speakers to campus to help us explore these issues, ranging from civil liberties leaders like Nadine Strossen to activists who were on the frontlines of democracy in Hong Kong reacting to a crackdown on free speech.

The theme is the focal point for the Goldfarb Freedom of Expression Policy Symposium held in the spring, which offers a $2,000 prize for the best public policy student proposal. This page will serve as an information hub on free speech with resources, articles, and updates on Goldfarb-sponsored talks to help educate and inform students who plan to participate in the spring policy competition.

Annual Theme Events

Free Speech in the Classroom: Conflict and Contradiction

January 11, 2022

The Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs hosted a conversation featuring Jan Plan visiting faculty Bernardine Dohrn and William Ayers. The talk was a contemporary conversation about how to respond to the desires, demands, and questions in classrooms today. What contradictions and conflicts, complexities and controversies, emerge when we consider free speech in the classroom? This is part of a series of events the Goldfarb Center has hosted this year in line with its focus on freedom of speech.

Bernardine Dohrn, activist, academic, and children’s and women’s rights advocate, is a retired Associate Clinical Professor from Northwestern University School of Law, where she was the founding director of the Children and Family Justice Center for 23 years. Dohrn is an author or editor of “Race Course: Against White Supremacy”; “A Century of Juvenile Justice” and “Resisting Zero Tolerance: A Handbook for Parents, Teachers, and Students”. Willam Ayers, formerly Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago has written extensively about social justice and democracy, education and the cultural contexts of schooling, and teaching as an essentially intellectual, ethical, and political enterprise. His books include “Teaching toward Freedom”; “To Teach: The Journey, in Comics”; and “Demand the Impossible”!


Christel Kessler
Prof. Christel Kesler
Prof. Aaron Hanlon
Prof. Dasan Thamattoor

Does Free Speech Give Us Better Science?

November 16, 2021

Conventional wisdom holds that science flourishes in a free, open society with robust free speech norms. But as misinformation spreads during a global pandemic, costing lives and undermining scientific credibility, is it time to rethink conventional wisdom? The Goldfarb Center hosted an interdisciplinary Colby faculty panel for a conversation about the compatibility of free speech and scientific inquiry and what we can do to protect both. 
The conversation was, organized by members of the Goldfarb Faculty Advisory Committee, including Christel Kesler,  Associate Professor of Sociology & Goldfarb Faculty Associate Director, Aaron Hanlon, Associate Professor of English, and Dasan Thamattoor, J. Warren Merrill Professor in Chemistry and Natural History.

Q&A with ACLU'S Senior Staff Attorney Emerson Sykes on Free Speech Protections on Campus

November 12, 2021

The Goldfarb Center hosted a thoughtful talk with one of the nation’s top First Amendment litigators on free speech issues ranging from protest rights, Black student activism on campuses, and​ the recent string of state classroom censorship bills. The event was an open Q&A session where Colby students had the opportunity to ask Mr. Sykes anything​, which might include discussing his current ​cases and free speech work, ​free speech protection trends, or the historical role of student activism.

Fighting Hate Speech, Defending Free Speech: A Conversation with Nadine Strossen

November 4, 2021

The Goldfarb Center hosted a conversation with civil liberties leader and free speech expert Nadine Strossen. The event officially kicked off a series of programming related to freedom of speech, the center’s theme this year. Ms. Strossen engaged in a robust Q&A with Colby students, faculty, and staff on issues ranging from how to effectively resist hate speech to free speech on college campuses. She talked about constitutional rights, the role of social media, and much more. 

Goldfarb Center Freedom of Expression Policy Symposium​

April 26, 2021
The annual theme for 2020-21 was the criminal justice system and racial inequalities. You can learn more about our programming related to this theme in our annual report. 
In April 2021, six student semi-finalists presented their policy proposals on how to reform the U.S. criminal justice system to achieve racial justice. Topics ranged from marijuana decriminalization to the prison-industrial complex to predictive policing tools and more. The top three winners are announced at the end of the event. The winners were decided by a faculty panel, including Professors Christel Kesler, Adam Howard, and Nadia El-Shaarawi, all members of the Goldfarb Faculty Advisory Committee.
The top prize went to Ester Kim ’21 for her work on Policing in the US: Ensuring Equitable Involvement and Citizen Participation, second place went to Alice O’Neill ’23 and Halle Carroll ’23 who teamed up to focus on Anti-Capitalist Justice: Divesting from the Prison-Industrial Complex, and third place was awarded to Connor Flotten ’21 for his compelling thoughts on Ending the War on Drugs: Decriminalization and Racial Justice.