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June 15, 2017

Zach Wood is a senior at Williams College and president of Uncomfortable Learning, a student-run group that invites provocative speakers to speak on campus. (Kirk Carapezza/WGBH)

The debate over free speech has resurfaced on college campuses.

Last semester at the University of California-Berkeley, the birthplace of the free speech movement, students rioted over controversial speakers invited to their campus. At Middlebury College in Vermont, student protesters shouted down Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, an incendiary book about race and intelligence.

A new Gallup survey finds that when college students were asked if they believed in free speech, the vast majority of students across the political spectrum said yes. But asked if they favored college policies that banned hate speech, those same students said yes without seeing a contradiction in their answers. 

Some states are intervening and considering legislation that would protect free speech on college campuses.

In her commencement address this spring, Harvard University President Drew Faust cautioned students not to shut themselves off in word and thought from the world around them. 

"We must remember that limiting some speech opens the dangerous possibility that the speech that is ultimately censored may be our own,” Faust told graduates. “If some words are to be treated as equivalent to physical violence and silenced or even prosecuted, who is to decide which words?”

In our inaugural episode Sunday, June 18 at 8 p.m., WGBH’s On Campus Radio takes a look at the battleground of ideas and freedom of speech on college campuses.

We visit a Wellesley College class where professors are pushing left-leaning students out of their comfort zones, and we sit down with Wellesley junior Esther Jaffe, who wants to restrict certain speech on her campus.

Then we revisit a conversation from 2016 with Williams College student Zach Wood, who has been inviting controversial speakers to the liberal arts campus.

We also talk to Wesleyan University President Michael Roth, who says colleges need “affirmative action” for conservative ideas, and we hear from Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley, Harvard education professor Meira Levinson and WGBH News senior editor Ken Cooper.

Tune in Sunday, June 18 at 8 p.m. or stream the show on the WGBH app here.

Related: In A Polarized Climate, Administrators Balance Controversial Speech And Activism

Earlier: At Keene State, Student Journalists See 'A Pattern Of Suppression' 

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