On Friday, April 22 Colorado College and Air Force students attended a dinner at the Wild Goose Meeting House to engage in a dialogue about free speech and the role of independent media in today’s society. Following the discussion, the group attended a talk by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! This was hosted by the Democratic Dialogue Project (DDP), an organization that brings together CC and the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) students to discuss civil-military relations.
Greg Laski, professor at USAFA, said, “We wanted to create the Democratic Dialogue Project as a space for Colorado College and Air Force Academy students to enter into a dialogue about matters relevant to public life, regardless of one’s identity as civilian or military.”
Laski continued, “I think events like this one are important on a more local level and on a more global level. On a local level, it is important to provide opportunities for CC and USAFA students to communicate in an intellectual context.” He argued that democracy is suffering due to many civilians disinterested in military affairs and few civilians serving in the military.
Chris Dylewski, the USAFA student leader, said, “I thought that this would be a great way to prompt some reflection on some of the deeper and more difficult questions that surround civil-military relations. I echo what I have heard from other Academy cadets who attended, when I say that it was a pleasure to interact with our CC counterparts, many of whom had interesting insight on their perception of the military and the ethics and morals of the soldier in combat.”
CC sophomore Bobby Clements, said, “I greatly appreciated the opportunity to be a part of this event. The cadets were some of the most fascinating people I’ve met and engaging with them was one of the highlights of my academic career. The insight into the military, and the role of women within it, was invaluable. While talking to them made me appreciate much about CC, it also challenged my stance on a variety of issues.”
Junior Annika Kastetter, future CCSGA President, said, “It’s always an interesting experience engaging with USAFA cadets, particularly when discussing contentious topics such as ‘free speech.’ I think at any institution it is common for students to adopt similar trends in belief and thought—at CC for example, I feel like we’re engrossed in this ‘liberal bubble’—so it’s genuinely refreshing to be exposed to alternative perspectives, like those expressed by USAFA cadets.”
Through conversing with the cadets, Kastetter discovered there was a divide among those who argued that all forms of free speech should be protected, and those that believed that if free speech was harmful, could potentially harm, or could impede an individual or target a population, that it should be limited.
Sophomore Helena Thatcher said, “I was most interested in one of the female cadet’s response to sexist comments at the academy. She said that her being made to feel uncomfortable because of targeted language due to her gender was less important than others’ right to free speech.”
Thatcher continued, “That concept of privileging one person’s right to free speech over a right to safety and respect is an interesting argument. Everyone acted like he or she was okay with gender, but would it stand up to the social consensus about race? Why are derogative comments about gender more easily protected or normalized?”
After a shared meal, a conversation where CC students and USAFA cadets exchanged anecdotes of daily life and a lively debate over the implications of free speech on both campuses, they attended a talk by Amy Goodman.
Kastetter said, “It is vital that we continue asking these questions and challenging the way we think about complex issues like ‘freedom of speech.’ As I think Amy Goodman would agree, any restriction on freedom of speech sets a dangerous precedent.”
Laski said, “It was wonderful to hear Amy Goodman speak directly to the USAFA and CC students in the audience about the importance of an independent media that tells the truth about war and its costs.”
Sophomore Jake Peterson said, “To me one of the most interesting things about DDP is interacting with the cadets and asking about their lives. It is so different than mine here at CC. I was talking to a cadet who had her commitment dinner coming up, meaning that as a sophomore she had to decide if she was going to commit the next handful of years of her life to the Air Force. I told her that would be absolutely terrifying to me and she laughed.”
Peterson found that the DDP gave himself and other CC students an unique opportunity to connect with cadets, whose lives vary greatly from their own, and to discuss foreign policy.
Dylewski found that the DDP will push CC students and USAFA cadets to reevaluate their respective beliefs on the intersection between the military world and civilians in the United States.
Kastetter said, “In order to have a genuinely open channel allowing for free speech, our society must accept both the negatives and positives that come with such a foundation. If we allow for and protect all forms of speech, as painful as it may be, only then can we effectively address the roots of prejudice and divisive action in the United States.”
DDP will continue to host events on a variety of topics in an effort to bring together the two campuses.