Workshop urges students, faculty to combat 'Dangerous Speech'

Maricopa Community College is hosting a two-day workshop in October that will teach students and faculty members to "counteract" so-called "Dangerous Speech."

According to the event description, "Dangerous Speech" is distinct from both "free speech" and "hate speech," and refers to "language that tends to catalyze intergroup violence."

This fall, the “Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction” at Maricopa Community College will teach students and faculty to draw a distinction between “Dangerous Speech” and free speech.

The two-day workshop in October, titled “Hate Speech versus Free Speech: Navigating the Changing Boundaries in Today’s World,” will introduce attendees to a specific category of speech called “Dangerous Speech,” which the event description says “tends to catalyze intergroup violence.” 

Participants will learn how “Dangerous Speech” is different from “free speech,” as well as the best ways to “counteract” it.

“Using real examples from many countries, the school, and hands-on activities, this training teaches skills to help build long-term societal resilience to violence, including by identifying, resisting, and countering Dangerous Speech and its impact,” the description explains.

[RELATED: Colleges should ‘censor’ ‘unsafe’ speech, student op-ed argues]

The training will be facilitated by Susan Benesch and Cathy Buerger of the “Dangerous Speech Project,” which was started in 2010 “to test a simple, original idea: that a particular type of public speech tends to catalyze intergroup violence, and that this knowledge might be used to prevent such violence.”

Benesch is Faculty Associate of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, and also teaches human rights at American University’s School of International Service. Buerger is is a Research Affiliate at the University of Connecticut’s Economic and Social Rights Research Group

DSP treats “Dangerous Speech” as a proper noun, defining it as “any form of expression (speech, text, or images) that can increase the risk that its audience will condone or participate in violence against members of another group.”

The program’s website explains that “Susan Benesch coined this term (and founded the Dangerous Speech Project) after observing that fear-inducing, divisive rhetoric rises steadily before outbreaks of mass violence and that it is often uncannily similar, even in different countries, cultures, and historical periods.”

[RELATED: Students call free speech ‘violent’ while disrupting lecture]

According to the university, the first day of the workshop “is focused on ‘decoding’ Dangerous Speech, giving participants the tools to identify Dangerous Speech in different contexts and diving into the different factors that make speech more or less dangerous.”

The Dangerous Speech Project’s guidelines explain that Dangerous Speech often contains “phrases, words, or coded language that has taken on a special loaded meaning, in the understanding of the speaker and audience.”

DSP maintains that there are five main variables to consider when deciding whether speech fits into the “dangerous” category: message, speaker, audience, context, and medium. According to the group, certain variables in any of these categories (such as the economic standing of the majority of the audience, or a “charismatic or popular” speaker) can cause speech to be more “dangerous” or likely to incite violence.

Notably, however, the document cautions that “such efforts must not infringe upon freedom of expression, a fundamental right whose exercise can, itself, prevent violence.”

[RELATED: Brown students: Supporting free speech is ‘explicitly dangerous’]

On day two of the workshop, Maricopa says that participants “will learn strategies for: 1) integrating this content into a classroom setting, 2) beginning and sustaining productive dialogues about speech and freedom of expression, and 3) leveraging an understanding of Dangerous Speech to design interventions that can counter the impact of Dangerous Speech and reduce the risk of intergroup violence.”

DSP’s website elaborates on the recommended methods of “counteracting” Dangerous Speech, such as “inhibiting the speech, limiting its dissemination, undermining the credibility of the speaker, or ‘inoculating’ the audience against the speech so that they are less easily influenced by it.”

Faculty attending the workshop are able to receive nine Faculty Professional Growth (FPG) credits for their participation, as part of a program intended to “recognize and reward the efforts of faculty members as they engage in professional growth activities related to their service to the District.”

The Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction did not immediately respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment.  

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