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Fostering Dialogues, Not Debates

by Emma Schwendeman

With a plethora of controversial topics these days, free speech has become a full-fledged sensation from actors and actresses voicing concern on sexual misconduct to the president tweeting extensively on his agenda.

Even on Penn State’s campus, we witness free speech in action. For instance, the Willard preacher spends his time proclaiming his thoughts on religion, right versus wrong, and more. There is very little that will stop him. He is out there in the hot sunny days, winter weather, and every condition in between. He fights for what he believes in, even when students disagree. He employs his right.

But how far should we extend free speech at Penn State’s campus? When does this powerful right become a hinderance to our community? As a senior, I look back to my freshman year when the app Yik Yak was around and how one post had the impact it did. A student made a threat that he was going to shoot out the HUB on a Monday afternoon. It was heavy on the Penn State community, requiring multiple investigation agencies and many alerts to be made. As a freshman, it was terrifying that one post could shake everybody. It was an example of when free speech impedes on one’s safety in our Happy Valley.

However, there have been more examples of when free speech has made our campus stronger. For example, this past spring, we saw an opportunity for reform to our Greek life system through speaking out. Our administrative system spoke out briefly and imposed sanctions to try to resolve it. On the other hand, issue arose for many students at Penn State because they felt like their voices were unheard — that their free speech was hindered to some degree.

So how do we protect and abide to free speech for both administrators and students? Having open dialogues can help. We are entitled to our opinions and our voice in our college career but they may not be as fine-tuned. Therefore, we must work on how we speak but also how we listen to try to improve. Like the Willard preacher though, we must continue to speak out for what we believe is right.


State of State is an annual conference presented by the Penn State community for the Penn State community. By bringing together innovative speakers and community leaders, State of State create a dialogue on the present and the future of the University. This post is part of a series of guest blogs from students involved in State of State.

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About the Author

State of State

Founded in 2013, State of State is a student-run organization at Penn State University, committed to facilitating a dialogue within the university community about important Penn State-related issues. This dialogue culminates every year in a spring conference at which we bring together student, faculty, administration, alumni, and community leaders to speak about a variety of Penn State and State College topics, ranging from student life to mental health to town-and-gown relations. Our goal is to bring together passionate change-makers who can make our community stronger and more successful. Join this ongoing conversation “by Penn State, for Penn State” at our ​year-round special events and in February for our annual State of State conference.

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