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Ashby ’21, Jiao ’21, Wiley ’21 Reflect on Freedom of Expression Conference

From Sept. 12 – Sept. 14, juniors Zach Ashby, Victor Jiao, and Lily Wiley traveled to the University of Chicago’s Freedom of Expression and Open Discourse in High School Conference with Head of the Upper School Peter Quagliaroli and Upper school teachers David Smith and Will Nichols. Here they reflect on the experience.

This weekend, we, along with three members of the faculty, traveled to the University of Chicago for a conference on freedom of free expression and open discourse in high schools and higher education. St. Anne’s-Belfield School, along with 11 other independent schools in the east, participated in this conference in order to be stewards of open discourse and free expression in our School and our broader community. The conference centered around the ​Chicago Principles​ - a forging document promoting free speech in higher education - and featured many esteemed administrators and professors from the University.

The days at the conference were packed with lectures, presentations, discussions, and various other types of activities, helping students and administrators recognize issues surrounding free expression within their communities and strategies to solve them. We heard from University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer, Mr. Darius Weil from Riverdale Country School, Ms. Leila Brammer from the Parrhesia Program for Public Discourse at the University, as well as numerous other university administrators.

The most intriguing part of the conference was to review the case studies provided by Ms. Brammer. The case studies included extremely controversial issues and helped us form a way to address and resolve similar issues through the lens of free speech. Gathering different opinions from various biased perspectives, we learned how to synthesize different opinions and to possibly find an effective solution to similar issues that could happen in St. Anne’s-Belfield School.

After the conference, current students from the University of Chicago led us on a tour around the campus, informing us on the effects and opinions on open discourse at the university. We were impressed by the beauty of the campus and the culture of freedom of expression that exists there.

On departing from the trip, all students and faculty members were prompted to bring home some key tenants discussed within the conference and integrate them into their school lives. This was the most fulfilling part of the conference as it allowed us to hypothesize how to better create an environment of free expression at St. Anne’s-Belfield School and the difficulties that might need to be overcome to do so.

As participants of this conference, we thought that improvements could be made to strengthen the conference itself. Schools from all over the United States should participate in the conference since geographical diversity can reflect different opinions. However, overall, this first-year conference was extremely successful and we are excited to act as active promoters of freedom of expression at St. Anne’s-Belfield School and in the Charlottesville community.

Photo provided by Mr. Peter Quagliaroli.