Free Speech Project: A Student Led Initiative Sponsored by the HAC

Hannah Arendt was a fierce defender of free and open political speech. In perhaps her most direct defense of free speech, Arendt writes: “Only in the freedom of our speaking with one another does the world, as that about which we speak, emerge in its objectivity and visibility from all sides.”

Free Speech Project: A Student Led Initiative Sponsored by the HAC

About the Project

The Hannah Arendt Center's Free Speech Project begins with Arendt’s uncompromising defense of free speech as a foundation for democratic politics. Politics is never about truth. It is about opinion. Free speech matters because it exposes all of us to opinions different from our own. In doing so, free speech expands our understanding and experience of the world. In encountering unexpected, disagreeable, and uncomfortable opinions, our imagination of the world must change. We must either alter our own opinion, embrace a fully new opinion, or reaffirm our old opinion. In any of these cases, we embrace an opinion that is more fully consonant with the plurality and reality of the world as a whole.
The Arendt Center sponsors multiple student led programs dedicated to free expression. The students coordinate & lead the “Tough Talks Lecture Series” that invites controversial and unpopular speakers to campus; and the “Dorm Room Conversations” which sponsors small group discussions amongst students who disagree about controversial questions. The Free Speech Project also includes a series of College Seminars on “Difficult Questions,” courses designed to explore questions of race, sex, and religion on campus. Bard College is one of the few colleges standing firm in its uncompromising commitment to free speech. Bard has never and will never dis-invite a speaker. And the Hannah Arendt Center is committed to bringing to the Bard Community thoughtful and provocative thinkers whose views are outside of the mainstream opinion on campus. The Free Speech Project at Bard’s Hannah Arendt Center is the intellectual cornerstone of the college’s unwavering commitment to the political and academic necessity of vibrant and dissenting opinions. We welcome students from all backgrounds to join the conversation! Sign up below, and the group will be in touch!

About The Students

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    Mark Williams

    Hi! My name is Mark Williams Jr. and I am a senior anthropology major concentrating in human rights and global public health with a focus on medical anthropology and infectious diseases. As a former early college student at Bard High School Early College Queens I have been taught from early on, the value of asking tough questions and exploring difficult ideas that others might find uncomfortable. As chair of the Educational Policies Committee here at Bard,   I started Tough Talks in the hope that students and members of the Bard community will further engage in the intense intellectual interrogation of ideas that, may perhaps, go against their own. Please join me and the rest of the Free Speech Project leaders, in what will surely be an engaging and memorable experience with some distinguished public intellectuals. 

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    Amar Reddy

    Bard College, c/o 2017 Economics -- Bard has highlighted Amar's interest in a number of topics concerning the well-being of the average person including income inequality, social movements and job guarantees. He sees Dormroom Conversations and the Hannah Arendt center as ways to protect free speech and thereby public political discourse. Hearing and understanding opposing viewpoints allows for a more vibrant society, and hopefully a more democratic government. "If you're in favor of freedom of speech, that means you're in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise." -Noam Chomsky

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    Ethan Quinones

    My name is Ethan Quiñones and I'm a senior Political Studies major from Troy, NY. My academic interests include Hannah Arendt, free speech, human rights, university politics, totalitarianism and fascism,public education, race, political movements, ideological trends, and political correctness. I became interested in forming the group after learning about the "Uncomfortable Learning" program at Williams college. Through the Dorm Room Conversations initiative I hope to foster a more open environment in which people feel free to voice their opinions and thoughts on contentious issues.


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    Rajdeep Dosanjh

    I am a senior majoring in ethnomusicology and religion. I have also started the Interfaith Council, a group interested in supporting followers of various faiths. From the Dorm Room Conversations program I hope to open dicussion on campus and hear from more than one side, especially when they are difficult or challenging to listen to.

Faculty Advisor

Faculty Advisor
Samantha Rose Hill received her doctorate in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 2014. She is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and The Humanities at Bard College. Her research and teaching interests include critical theory, the Frankfurt School, aesthetic theory, and the History of Political Thought. Hill is currently finishing a manuscript of Hannah Arendt’s poetry, which has been edited and translated into English: Into the Dark: The Collected Poems of Hannah Arendt. Previously Hill conducted post-doctoral work at the Institut für Philosophie at the Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt am Main and served as a visiting lecturer at Amherst College.

Tough Talks Lecture Series

The Tough Talks Lecture Series of the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College is a student run initiative embodying the college’s motto as “A Place to Think.” Tough Talks aims to consider and make present opinions and perspectives that are too often invisible on campus. The goals is to provide a forum for explicitly unpopular views that some might deem unpleasant, uncomfortable, and unsafe.
No topic or opinion is off limits for the Tough Talks lecture series. We will invite speakers to our campus to engage us with ideas that largely go against the status quo. In doing so we will give voice to discordant views and also insist that students experience and engage arguments that challenge their own prejudices and convictions. This is an initiative to not only put a face to and hear a fully stimulating and articulate viewpoint that challenges our own ideas, but it is also, most importantly, an initiative for our community to articulately challenge and hold accountable those individuals and their ideas that some might say are offensive and perhaps even, dangerous. “Our thinking,” writes Hannah Arendt in “Truth and Politics,” runs “from place to place, from one part of the world to another, through all kinds of conflicting views.” The freedom of speech is what allows divergent opinions that comprise our common world to emerge in their visibility from all sides. Free speech, Arendt reminds us, is not simply an individual liberty to say what one thinks. More importantly, the freedom to speak brings the different and conflicting opinions and viewpoints to appear in public; it makes the world visible in its plurality.

Dorm Room Conversations

The Dorm Room Conversations initiative is a program designed to promote what many people came to Bard for in the first place- having difficult conversations about difficult topics. In recent years, these difficult conversations have become harder and harder to have and dissent from the status quo- whether it be Bard College or Liberty University- has become taboo. This trend has led many people to exit the realm of political discussion altogether, rather than face ostracization or exclusion.  DRC will host small group discussions in which we invite people who disagree to come together hold conversations with a small group. These conversations will involve 6 people- two hosts who disagree, and three people invited by each host to participate in the discussion. Topics may be as wide-ranging as race relations, or as specific as Title IX legislation. Our goal is to highlight the plurality of ideas which exists within the student body, and to encourage students to freely speak their mind, even if what they have to say may be unpopular. We encourage students to come to the conversation prepared with researched materials, thoughtful ideas, respect, and above all, an open mind. If you have an interesting topic in mind, please click HERE. We will get back to you soon and help facilitate a Dorm Room Conversation.