Joanne Berger-Sweeney

Speech, Freedom, and Inclusion of College Campuses

Freedom of speech is an individual’s right to articulate ideas without fear of retaliation. Academic freedom is a commitment that scholars are free to teach ideas that are unpopular without being targeted for repression. Joanne Berger-Sweeny will use examples from her tenure as President of Trinity College to explore the limitations of these principles and describe the challenges of putting them into practice. How can we ensure that these values, central to a college’s mission, are protected while recognizing that speech can have disparate impacts on members of our college communities? One takeaway is that college campuses are exactly where these issues, key to our democratic processes, should be deliberated.

Constitutional rights are not absolute. What are the limitations of speech? How do we balance freedom of speech while fostering diversity and inclusion? How does academic freedom intersect with issues of safety, particularly in the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville? Does requesting a “trigger warning” infringe on a faculty member’s right to academic freedom? College campuses are exactly where these issues that are key to our democratic processes should be deliberated.

Since 2014, Berger-Sweeney has served as the 22nd president of Trinity College (CT). During her tenure, she has completed a strategic plan emphasizing a transformational education and preparing for life after college; restructured the admissions processes with a focus on student excellence and access, and created the Bantam Network mentoring program for first-year students. She has also strengthened connections with Hartford with the Liberal Arts Action Lab and an Innovation Hub.

Before coming to Trinity, Berger-Sweeney was Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University and a faculty member at Wellesley College. She holds an M.P.H. in environmental health sciences from the University of California, Berkeley and a neurotoxicology Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University.

Moderator: Tori Haring-Smith

Tori Haring-Smith taught English and theatre at Brown University for 16 years, was artistic director of the English-language theatre in Cairo, Egypt, and retired to Peterborough in 2017 after 12 years as president of Washington & Jefferson College. Since then, she has worked with Peterborough Players, Firelight Theatre, and the Monadnock Writers Group, among other activities.

Sponsored by The Reading Foundation.