Language and Culture Institute

Salon Series

Winter 2020

The Future of Free Speech

Teacher: A. Protopappas
Tuesdays: 9:00am to 11:00am & 6:00pm to 8:00pm

Extreme and hateful speech has moved to the center of public discourse through the rise of social media, tearing apart communities and threatening democracy.  Policing “offensive” speech may, however, produce the very intolerance it purports to eliminate. Where is the limit and who sets it?

Winter term (January 14th until March 10th)

Truth, Trust, Faith & Facts: The Fateful Connection

How immune is the US to the spread of fake news and hate speech through mainstream and social media: An exploration of the contested boundary between truth, facts and opinion in First Amendment jurisprudence, education and the media, and the growing role of blind faith and distrust in the formation of democratic public opinion.

Themes of discussion will include:
  • Social media and the spread of “fake news”
  • Foreign interference, domestic tribalism, and conspiracy theories
  • Post-truth and the influence of French postmodern theories in academia
  • Religion’s influence on political and judicial debates: Faith vs. reason
  • The First Amendment’s ambivalence toward truth and defamation
  • The manufacturing of doubt and suspicion and the cooptation of “experts”
  • Political marketing, corporate think tanks, technology (DeepFake) & infotainment: Facts, fiction, fabrication, and the shaping of opinion
  • The role of education and law to improve digital literacy and citizenship

Spring Term (March 31st until June 9th): 10 weeks

Protecting the Speech that We Hate or Protecting Hate Speech: Has the First Amendment outlived its promises?

Who should arbitrate truth and “offensiveness”?  Can we trust the
market of ideas, private tech companies or the government to restore a vibrant democratic debate? Can the First Amendment still fulfill its goals in the face of new challenges?

Themes of discussion will include:
  • The achievements and paradoxes of the First Amendment “bubble”
  • The threat to Free Speech in educational and cultural (museums) settings
  • How do we restore civility: Accountability vs demonization
  • Speech vs deeds: Demagoguery; hate speech, hate crime & violent acts
  • International perspectives on hate speech legal regulations & social media
  • Critical challenges to freedom of information and a pluralistic free press
  • Free Speech vs national security: The status of leakers and whistle-blowers
  • Money speaks: The Citizen United Supreme Court 2010 ruling

Identity & Justice:

Teacher: A. Protopappas

Thursdays: 9:00am to 11:00am & 6:00pm to 8:00pm

An exploration of how national cohesion and identity support or threaten democracy and vice versa, focusing on education and the contested role of the government to balance: rights and identity; the tension between liberty and equality; and private interests vs. the public civic good.

Winter term (January 16th until March 12th)
American Exiles in Paris: Cultural/Colonial Others & Issues of Race and Gender

How and why Paris became the hub of the Black diaspora—the rich cross-fertilization between colonial subjects and African American exiles—and the capital of creative exploration of artistic, racial, and sexual identities.
Themes of discussion will include:
  • The role of WWI and the growth of racial Black consciousness: Colonialism, the legacy of slavery, and racism
  • The Lost Generation and the centennial of Shakespeare & Cie: Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier
  • Women of color, American lesbians, and the tradition of literary and artistic Salons: The Nardals, Gertrude Stein and Picasso, Hemingway, Fitzgerald
  • Negritude and the New Negro Movement
  • From Harlem Renaissance to Black Paris: Jazz, literature and philosophy  

Spring Term (April 2nd until June 11th): 10 weeks

Wounded Memories: The Shaping of the Past and Contested Symbols of Collective Membership

What constitutes symbols of togetherness in the construction of institutional, national and personal memories?  Should the Government protect “historical truths”forged by traumatic past events? What are the generational effects of un-erasable memories created on social media? Starting with issues like reparations and commemoration shaped by our post-slavery and colonial past, we will conclude with the sharing of personal narratives and family memories as a collective project.   
LINK Themes of discussion will include:
  • Identity, memory and amnesia: Restorative vs retributive justice as a step toward national reconciliation
  • Nation and State-building in America: The unresolved, recurrent Civil War
  • The removal of statues and reexamination of national heroes, memorials and holidays: What should we commemorate? How to write inclusive curricula?
  • Contested allegiance to the flag and the anthem vs. Free Speech
  • Memory Laws, historical truths and issues of Free Speech
  • Revisiting formative historical junctures and missed opportunities
  • Shifting social norms and fads vs timeless justice and accountability
  • Managing the “end-of-forgetting” on social media & identity protection

Fees and Class Size

$530 for Spence community members (parents/guardians, alumnae, faculty, staff, parents of Spence alumnae)
$600 for non-Spence participants

Class size is limited to 20 students, and a minimum of four students is required for the class to be offered.