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[VIRTUAL] The Common Room: Managing Political Difference on the Virtual Campus

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

The 2020 general election is unlike any other. Understanding how campuses can facilitate respectful and productive dialogue across political differences will be key during this tense time, but doing so virtually presents additional challenges. What can faculty, administrators, and staff do now to prepare for the difficult dialogues that lie ahead?


Join Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s campus free speech program, for an interactive forum to discuss this issue and possible responses from the higher ed sector. Friedman will be joined by guests Vicka Bell-Robinson, director of residence life at Miami University, and Sigal Ben-Porath, professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania.

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 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.


Vicka Bell-Robinson headshotVicka Bell-Robinson (she, her, hers) has worked professionally in higher education for the last 17 years, and is currently the director of residence life at Miami University. Prior to joining Miami University in 2007, she held positions at North Central College and Ball State University. She has a bachelor of science in psychology from the University of Illinois, a master of education in college student personnel from Grand Valley State University, and a doctor of philosophy in educational leadership from Miami University. Bell-Robinson strives to lead with intention and believes that one of the most important things she can do is work to be the best leader possible for the students we serve. She values creating powerful and effective co-curricular experiences for college students, while simultaneously providing leadership, vision, and support for staff. She does this through developing meaningful partnerships and utilizing data-driven decision-making in order to evolve approaches to on-campus living, student development, and organizational management to be in alignment with student needs and shifting priorities.

Sigal Ben-Porath headshotSigal Ben-Porath (she, her, hers) is professor of education, with secondary appointments in philosophy and political science, at the University of Pennsylvania. She is a 2020–21 fellow at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. She received her doctorate in political philosophy from Tel-Aviv University in 2000, after which she joined Princeton University’s Center for Human Values as a post-doctoral fellow. Her areas of research include democratic theory, education policy at the K-12 and higher education levels, and educational ethics. She recently published the books Free Speech on Campus (Penn Press, 2017) and Making Up Our Mind (with Michael Johanek, University of Chicago Press, 2019). Her previous books include Citizenship under Fire: Democratic Education in Times of Conflict (2006) and Tough Choices (2010), both from Princeton University Press. She serves on the board of the Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy, as well as the Teachers Institute of Philadelphia. She chaired Penn’s Committee on Open Expression from 2015 to 2019. In recent years, she has offered guidance to many campuses on policy development and responses to controversies surrounding speech.