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PSU's "Great Debate" Tackles the Issue of Free Speech

This year’s Pomona Student Union “Great Debate” tackles another controversial issue by bringing together former ACLU President Nadine Strossen and prominent legal scholar and critical race theorist Mari Matsuda for a debate on free speech on February 12 at 7 p.m. in the Smith Campus Center's Edmunds Ballroom. Moderated by students, the debate will specifically focus on the tension between free speech and hate speech, addressing the issues presented by inflammatory statements and those who call for creating a safer environment for targets.

The PSU was founded in 2003 to inspire open dialog on campus through a series of challenging and intellectually diverse debates and events. “Each year, we hope that the Great Debate is an informative and compelling presentation of different opinions on a subject,” says PSU President Rhett Dornbach-Bender ’09. “The goal is always to stimulate thought and interest in a topic—without promoting or endorsing any particular point of view.”

The topic of free speech was chosen this year because it’s an important topic in current society and a natural source of debate, but also because of a 2007 PSU debate on immigration that inspired protests and much discussion on campus, chronicled in a Pomona College Magazine article. “[The] immigration debate certainly raised a lot of questions within the Pomona College community regarding the nature—and potential limits—of free speech,” says Dornbach-Bender.

Strossen served as the present of the American Civil Liberties Union from 1991 to 2008, and was the first woman and youngest person to do so. She’s a professor at New York Law School, and a member of the Council of Foreign Relations. She has twice been named one of the “100 Most Influential Lawyers in America” by the National Law Journal, and Vanity Fair Magazine named her one of “America’s 200 Most Influential Women” in 1998. Her books include Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women’s Rights (NYU Press, 2000) and Speaking of Race, Speaking of Sex: Hate Speech, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties (NYU Press, 1995).

Matsuda, a professor at the William S. Richardson Law School in Hawaii, is a well-known voice on constitutional law and jurisprudential issues, including hate speech, affirmative action, feminist theory, and critical race theory. She has previously taught at Georgetown University, UCLA (where she was the first tenured female Asian American law professor in the U.S.), Stanford Law School, and the University of Hawaii School of Law.

Matsuda’s books include Words That Wound: Critical Race Theory, Assaultive Speech, and the First Amendment (Westview Press, 1993), We Won't Go Back: Making the Case for Affirmative Action (Houghton Mifflin, 1997), and Where is Your Body?: And Other Essays on Race, Gender, and the Law (Beacon Press, 1997). She also serves on the advisory boards of Ms. Magazine, the ACLU and the National Asian Pacific Legal Consortium.

Future PSU events for the spring semester include a panel on "Human Rights in the 21st Century" on February 17; a debate on "Privacy, Wiretapping and the Patriot Act" on March 5; and a debate on microfinance on March 30.