5 takeaways from the Freedom of Expression student roundtable

Story by Carly Belin
Photos by Emma Oravecz

Todd Milbourn and Lisa Heyamoto are the hosts of two student roundtables for the UO Freedom of Expression Series.
Todd Milbourn and Lisa Heyamoto are the hosts of two student roundtables for the UO Freedom of Expression Series.

Freedom of expression has a lot of different facets, from freedom of the press to the many ways the First Amendment protects our right to say what’s on our minds. As college students in the United States of America, we are confronted regularly with conflicts and discussions around freedom of speech in the news and right here on campus.

But one thing many of us may not spend a lot of time thinking about is what goes into creating an environment that encourages free expression. What makes us feel comfortable enough to share our views, even if they’re controversial or unpopular?

I didn’t think about these things until Feb. 23, when I attended a student roundtable facilitated by journalism instructors Lisa Heyamoto and Todd Milbourn. Titled “Your Campus, Your Voice,” the free student event was part of the university-wide Freedom of Expression Series focused on nurturing inclusive campus conversations.

The experience turned out to be incredibly enriching. Heyamoto and Milbourn presented a roomful of students with three questions about the conditions that make it easier — or harder — for us to speak our truth. We spent the next two hours discussing our answers with other students in small groups, and we found out we have a lot in common when it comes to how and when we express ourselves.

Heyamoto and Milbourn will be hosting a second student roundtable on Friday, March 9, from noon to 2 p.m. I highly recommend you attend if you have any interest in freedom of expression. Registration is still open, and the event includes a free lunch!

If you’re wondering what to expect, here are my top five takeaways from the first student roundtable discussion.

1. We have to get to know each other as humans before we can effectively discuss beliefs we may disagree about. 

It is easy in today’s political climate to put labels on someone, to categorize them according to their beliefs and base how we feel about that person on those categories. But as humans, we are more than any one label. While political beliefs are definitely a part of what makes someone who they are, it is not their sole defining feature.I think every human being can connect with every other. . We just need to decide to listen and get to know someone before we pass judgment, and we need to stay open to others’ ideas.

Lisa Heyamoto asks student roundtable participants what conditions allow them to speak up.
Lisa Heyamoto asks student roundtable participants what conditions allow them to speak up.

2. Some people are more confident about speaking up for themselves than others. 

Everyone has a different level of comfort with speaking up when they feel like something is wrong. This idea was really prevalent at my table when we were discussing the times we spoke up.Some at my table felt uncomfortable saying something when they felt their own rights had been violated, but they found it easier to speak up for a friend or loved one if their rights were at risk. For others at the table, the opposite was true.

3. Sometimes we are hesitant to speak up because we fear being ostracized by the group. 

Group mentality is a real thing that muddies most of our minds. It can be terrifying to speak out when you have an unpopular opinion. This makes sense when you think about how we evolved: Humans have been programmed to “go with the group” because it’s typically safer to travel in packs.

4. When one person speaks up, others often follow. 

There is usually one person who is slightly more confident about speaking out than others. And that one person may be all it takes to make others in the group more comfortable with expressing themselves.  Again, there is strength in numbers.

5. We are lucky to have a safe place to hold important conversations like this one. 

The discussions I had with fellow students at this roundtable were insightful and eye-opening. It’s an experience I plan to recall consciously when faced with tough decisions. Don’t forget: If you didn’t get the chance to go to the last roundtable, you have another chance at the second “Your Campus, Your Voice Student Roundtable” this Friday, noon to 2 p.m. at the Many Nations Longhouse.

Carly Belin is a junior from San Diego, Calif. She is double-majoring in journalism and advertising. This is her third term interning for the SOJC Communications Office. She is also a producer for UO’s student-run television program, DuckTV News.

Emma Oravecz is an applied folklorist working as the SOJC’s social media and events manager.