On Silence: Student Refrainment From Speech

In Emmett Macfarlane (ed.), Dilemmas of Free Expression. University of Toronto Press. pp. 252-268 (2021)
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Abstract

In this chapter I provide resources for assessing the charge that post-secondary students are self-censoring. The argument is advanced in three broad steps. First, I argue that both a duality at the heart of the concept of self-censorship and the term’s negative lay connotation should incline us to limit the charge of self-censorship to a specific subset of its typical extension. I argue that in general we ought to use the neutral term “refrainment from speech,” reserving the more normatively charged “self-censorship” for cases of bad refrainment. In the second step of the argument, I seek to narrow down what counts as bad refrainment by mapping broad categories of possible reasons for and consequences of refrainment from speech. I argue that in general refrainment from speech is only bad if it is for bad (or what I will later term vicious) reasons or has pernicious consequences. When considering pernicious consequences, I argue that we should be concerned in particular about systems that perpetuate the coercive silencing of marginalized voices. I draw on Kristie Dotson’s work to describe two means by which marginalized voices are systemically silenced: testimonial quieting and testimonial smothering. After considering these types of silencing, I circle back to the post-secondary context to assess whether there is cause for concern if, as some reports suggests, US college students are refraining from speech within the educational context.

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Shannon Dea
University of Regina

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