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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Tuck School of Business hosts College President Sian Beilock to discuss free speech

The event was part of Tuck’s Crucial Conversation series, a part of Beilock’s Dartmouth Dialogues initiative.

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On Feb. 6, the Tuck School of Business hosted College President Sian Leah Beilock as a part of its Crucial Conversation series. The discussion, which was moderated by Tuck professor Charles Wheelan, centered around current challenges to free speech on campus, the importance of fostering dialogue in today’s political and social climate and steps individuals can take to engage in difficult conversations. 

The Crucial Conversations series is part of the larger Dartmouth Dialogues initiative, which was introduced by Beilock in early January. On Jan. 10, Beilock wrote in a campus-wide email that Dartmouth Dialogues consists of various campus programs that are “dedicated to facilitating conversations and skills that bridge political and personal divides.” 

Dartmouth Dialogues programming includes different on-campus speaker events, webinars, trainings and conferences, according to its website. 

In an interview held after the event, Wheelan said Tuck’s Crucial Conversations is “a talk initiative designed to help [Tuck] students navigate difficult conversations in the workplace, society and in the classroom.” 

The event began with a discussion between Beilock and Wheelan about the importance of free expression in higher education. Beilock said she hopes that Dartmouth’s “community and sense of trust” will allow students to engage in respectful conversations through the Dartmouth Dialogues initiative. 

Additionally, Beilock addressed “self-censorship” on campus, a phenomenon where individuals may not speak out about certain topics for fear of retribution from their peers. According to Wheelan, about 60% of Dartmouth students have reported experiencing self-censorship. 

A report published by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expressions in 2023 determined Dartmouth contains a “poor speech climate,” with an overall score of 25 out of 100 based on student accounts. FIRE is an organization with a conservative bent committed to “defending the individual rights of students and faculty members on our nation’s campuses,” according to its website. 

Much of the event focused on current events that have sparked dialogue on campus. Specifically, Beilock discussed the Israel-Hamas War and the subsequent Dartmouth administrative response. Beilock stated that the Jewish studies and Middle Eastern studies departments have fostered dialogue, describing these conversations as “difficult” and “uncomfortable” but necessary. 

Wheelan said he believes that the conflict has “shed light” on the need for open dialogue on college campuses. 

“We look at other campuses and the Israel-Hamas situation has certainly shown a need to talk about difficult issues in a better way,” Wheelan said. “I think Dartmouth has done better on that front.”

Additionally, Beilock how the College reinstated its standardized testing requirement for admissions beginning with the Class of 2029, which was announced on Feb. 5. Beilock stated her decision-making process involved“consult[ing] the experts,” including Dartmouth professors and researchers. 

She said she believes the College is offering a “new way to think about standardized tests,” which she said may influence other institutions. 

To end the event, the discussion was opened to the audience for questions. Questions ranged from students asking about ways they can emphasize open dialogue in their lives to how students can approach controversial and “emotionally-charged” conversations in the academic sphere. 

“I often have conversations with others where I am confronted with data that I have never seen before, and I am not sure is true. Do you have any insights on how to approach difficult conversations like these?” a member of the audience asked.

In Beilock’s response, she said that when confronted with unfamiliar data in a conversation, she tries to understand where the data came from, who presented the data and what the data means. She said that examining data often allows both parties to find “places where they agree.”

Another member of the audience asked Beilock what aspect of the Dartmouth community she is excited about “five to 10 years from now.”

Beilock said that the individuals she meets at Dartmouth make her optimistic about the College’s future and feels that Dartmouth is building the “next generation of leaders”. 

Crucial Conversations events will continue throughout the rest of the term. Wheelan described the initiative as having “many different pieces” with each aimed at “making spaces for dialogue” between Tuck students.

“There are different pieces to it, but the big picture is we’ve got — as a society and in the classroom — to get better at talking about difficult controversial things,” Wheelan said.