Last spring, the Princeton campus was in turmoil over questions of racism and freedom of expression. While things have been quieter this year, the big question — is speech of all kinds permissible at Princeton? — remains. Writer Christopher Shea ’91 spoke about that with students, professors, and free-speech advocates for an article that begins on page 32. Princeton is not the only university dealing with this issue; other campuses have seen protests that were more widespread, as well.
The University is continuing to explore ways to promote unfettered discussion while, at the same time, keeping debates civil and productive. Because social media have been used to post anonymous racist comments, one Princeton initiative, Own Your Words, encourages students to look classmates in the eye while conducting difficult conversations. Though anonymous commenting can open the door to constructive postings by those who otherwise would not speak out, it is also more likely to be uncivil and less likely to change anyone’s mind, some research shows. University of Houston professor Arthur Santana compared thousands of online comments posted by anonymous and named users and found that 53.5 percent of the anonymous comments included language that was “vulgar, racist, profane, or hateful,” compared to 28.7 percent of non-anonymous comments.
Since PAW began publishing comments on our redesigned website in 2008, we have required writers to sign their posts. We also will not post comments we view as uncivil or threatening. No doubt, some alumni feel these policies limit discussion, but we feel that there is no shortage of unpopular and dissenting views in PAW.
What do you think about limitations on speech and commenting? Let us know — but remember to include your name.