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[VIRTUAL] The Common Room: Confronting Threats and Harassment Against Faculty

An online event hosted by PEN America’s Campus Free Speech Program.

Hate and harassment have proliferated online in recent years, posing serious threats to college and university faculty. Women, BIPOC, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community continue to be disproportionately targeted and intimidated, posing a threat to the equitable exchange of ideas in the public sphere. Many faculty have been left to fend for themselves, with neither higher education leaders nor the major tech platforms taking sufficient steps to stem this tide. What, then, can faculty and their allies do to confront this challenge?


Join Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s campus free speech program, for an interactive forum to discuss this issue. Friedman will be joined by guests Lora Burnett, writer and historian at the Society for US Intellectual History; Sami Schalk, associate professor of Gender & Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Viktorya Vilk, director of digital safety and free expression programs at PEN America.

The Common Room is a weekly series for faculty, administrators, staff, and students to explore issues at the intersection of free speech, academic freedom, diversity, and inclusion in higher education. PEN America Members, supporters, and friends, including the general public, are invited to attend.


Jonathan Friedman headshotJonathan Friedman (he/him/his) is the program director for campus free speech at PEN America, where he oversees PEN America’s advocacy, analysis, and outreach in the national debate around free speech and inclusion in higher education. He served as lead author on PEN America’s 2019 report, Chasm in the Classroom: Campus Free Speech in a Divided America, and on the production of its digital Campus Free Speech Guide. Friedman holds a PhD in international education from New York University, and he has previously received awards for his teaching, research, and leadership.


Lora Burnett headshotLora Burnett (she/her/hers) is an American intellectual and cultural historian. She is the current editor-in-chief of the Society for US Intellectual History blog. She has published essays in Slate, Arc Digital, The Chronicle Review, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Public Seminar. She was recently attacked by Campus Reform, a right-wing disinformation organization that seeks to ‘expose liberal bias’ among college professors. Her employer, Collin College, publicly reprimanded her and privately retaliated against her for something she tweeted during the Vice Presidential debate. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has opened a case against the college for infringing upon the free speech rights of faculty.”

Sami Schalk headshot

Sami Schalk (she/her/hers) is an associate professor of Gender & Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She earned her BA in English (creative writing) and women’s studies from Miami University, her MFA in creative writing (poetry) from the University of Notre Dame, and her Ph.D. in gender studies from Indiana University. Schalk’s interdisciplinary research focuses broadly on disability, race, and gender in contemporary American literature and culture, especially African American literature, speculative fiction, and feminist literature. She has published on literature, film, and material culture in a variety of peer-reviewed humanities journals. For a detailed list of publications and awards, see Schalk’s CV (last updated January 2020). Schalk also writes for mainstream outlets, serves as a board member for Freedom Inc., and once twerked with Lizzo. She identifies as a fat, Black, queer, femme, cisgender, middle-class, disabled woman. She is also polyamorous, body-neutral, sex-positive, and a pleasure activist. Follow Schalk on Twitter and Facebook.

Viktorya Vilk headshotViktorya Vilk (she/her/hers) is the director of digital safety and free expression programs at PEN America. With over eight years of experience working in museums and arts nonprofits, she is firmly committed to protecting freedom of expression and expanding access to the arts. Prior to joining PEN America, she worked on organizational strategy and development at the Art & Global Health Center Africa, a Malawian NGO that advocates for health and human rights through the arts. She has organized exhibitions, developed public programs, managed a collection re-installation project, and created innovative digital platforms showcasing art and architecture at the Jewish Museum, the Clark Art Institute, The Frick Collection, and the Courtauld Gallery.