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Campuses cannot be 'echo chambers' for one viewpoint, say observers


  • Protesters gather outside Georgetown University as Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. speaks in 2012 at the university in Washington. Several violent incidents involving controversial speakers at universities this year prompted the Senate Judiciary Committee to have a hearing in June on free speech on college campuses. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
  • The campus of The Catholic University of America is seen from the bell tower of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. Several violent incidents involving controversial speakers at universities this year prompted the Senate Judiciary Committee to have a hearing in June on free speech on college campuses.(CNS photo/Bob Roller)

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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In the wake of several violent incidents involving controversial speakers at universities this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing June 20 on free speech on college campuses.

This issue also prompted Catholic News Service to interview several Catholic observers and leaders in higher education who emphasized the importance of civility and dialogue in a time of violence and intolerance.

The hearing was titled "Free Speech 101: The Assault on the First Amendment on College Campuses" and centered on the topics of free speech, intellectual freedom and the dangers they face on college campuses. Several people gave testimony, including two current students.

Zachary R. Wood, a senior at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, described his efforts to invite speakers who advocate challenging or controversial views in his work as president of Uncomfortable Learning at Williams College. Often his efforts were met with verbal attacks and violent language.

"I adamantly believe that students should be encouraged to engage with people and ideas they vehemently disagree with," Wood said in his written testimony.

Wood warned of the dangers of a campus that is an echo chamber, in which one view dominates and dictates the intellectual climate of the university.

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