[Spotlight] UNCG free speech conference
“Democratic life faces unprecedented challenges, both locally and internationally,” said UNCG professor of communication studies Dr. Spoma Jovanovic.
That, Jovanovic said, is why she and her colleagues organized “Finding Expression in Contested Public Spaces Free Speech Conference 2019.”
The two-day conference takes place this Thursday and Friday in the Virginia Dare Room of the Alumni House on the UNCG Campus. Conference hours are from 7 to 9 p.m. on the 24th and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the 25th. The event is hosted by the UNCG Department of Communication and is free and open to the public.
Jovanovic, a 2019-2020 Fellow with the University of California’s National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement, explained the importance of the conference in a recent email.
“Few could have anticipated the ways in which our democracies and electoral politics have become so heavily influenced by the impact of corporate personhood, public-private partnerships, explosive partisan politics, and a checkerboard game of economic decisions that too often leave people confused, rather than attuned to practical concerns punctuated by persistent injustices.”
The conference begins Thursday evening with a commemoration of the victims and survivors of the 1979 Greensboro Massacre, in which armed members of the KKK and the American Nazi Party killed anti-Klan demonstrators Cesar Cauce, James Waller, Bill Sampson, Sandi Smith and Michael Nathan. In 2006, the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Report stated that the Greensboro Police Department knew in advance that the Nazis and Klansmen were planning an attack, yet did nothing to prevent it and instead instructed officers to avoid the scene. Nov. 3 is the 40th anniversary of the massacre.
“We will observe 40 seconds of silence to mark the commemoration of the Greensboro Massacre and to celebrate the voices here and those gone but still in our midst that demonstrate the courage to speak so that the world is better for it,” Jovanovic wrote.
This will be followed by the keynote address from Dr. Eric King Watts, professor of rhetorical studies at the UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Communication, whose research combines literary and media studies with aesthetics to examine the relationship of African-American public voice, the black body, the very meaning of “blackness,” and the power relationships that promote some public voices while leaving others voiceless.
Watts’ keynote address, “Tribalism, Voicelessness and the Problem of Free Speech,” will examine the role of “post-truth” in the creation of intensely antagonistic public voices, and discuss how recent incidents of racial violence and this country’s immigration (or more accurately, anti-immigration) policies determine who can be heard and who matters.
The second day of the festival begins at 8 a.m. with the panel “Pedagogy and the First Amendment.” Jovanovic, who will moderate, described the panel in an email.
“Many students (and people in general) today have a shallow understanding of the first amendment, and yet, its impact reaches into all areas of our lives. In this panel, current and former graduate students from UNCG will consider the role and impact of video games (protected speech according to a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling) as well as how a ‘First Amendment Music Festival’ serves to promote citizenship and along with that, a deeper understanding of free speech protections and responsibilities.”
Following this are panels on “Academic Freedom & Campus Free Speech” and “Contested Public Spaces.” The latter will examine controversies over public monuments and the rights of homeless people to have access to public spaces.
The remaining panel topics are “Boundaries of Free Speech and Expression,” “Violence, Hate, Control of Free Speech,” and “Talking about Race.”
Parking is available at Walker Deck, located at 1510 Walker Ave. in Greensboro.