Oct 18-21 is Free Speech Week at UW-Eau Claire

Free Speech Week to be celebrated with several different events

More stories from Beth Stein


Photo by Beth Stein

It’s Free Speech Week at UWEC

Oct. 18 to 21 is Free Speech Week at UW-Eau Claire, featuring various events to talk about our rights as Americans and students. 

Free Speech Week is held each year in October to recognize the freedom of expression and to encourage people to learn about these rights so they can better exercise them.

Jaden Mikoulinskii, the student body president at UW-Eau Claire, collaborated with the Integrated Marketing and Communications department to raise awareness for this week-long celebration.

Mikoulinskii said she was inspired to get involved in Free Speech Week after reflecting on racist incidents at the university. 

Though UW-Eau Claire offers a relatively comprehensive Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity training, we still have many racist incidents, Mikoulinskii said. 

She believes students need to be better educated about their rights and the restrictions our institution has for preventing these incidents.

“We need to support our marginalized student populations with much more intentionality and authenticity — from a free speech perspective, that starts with advocacy to amend policies that hinder us from combating indisputable situations of hate speech,” Mikoulinskii said. 

The first event of the week was held at 5 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 18 in Centennial hall 1804. Sponsored by the Menard Center, this panel was titled “Fostering Inclusion and Free Inquiry.”

Eric Kasper, a professor of Political Science at UW-Eau Claire and the Director of the Menard Center, said the panel is designed to be a constructive discussion about the best ways to promote both the freedom of expression and inclusion of students from all backgrounds and viewpoints in conversations that occur on campus.

Panelists include several professors and staff members from the university, as well as from Carleton College.

“Topics to be discussed will include the benefits of free inquiry to students, the role of the campus’s Bias Incident Reporting Team, students’ views on the freedom of speech, and the effectiveness of EDI initiatives and how they may affect student speech and free inquiry on campus,” Kasper said. 

The second event of Free Speech week is titled “What is Critical Race Theory (and Why are We Talking About It)?”

Held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 20 in Centennial Hall 1415, the Menard Center and the student group Aspiring Educators are co-sponsoring this panel.

“The discussion will focus on what Critical Race Theory is, why it has become a political issue and implications for free speech and educators,” said Kasper.

Finally, at 6:00 pm on Thursday, Oct. 21, the Menard Center is sponsoring a virtual event via Zoom, featuring Mary Beth Tinker, from the landmark Tinker v. Des Moines Supreme Court Case.

In 1965, 13-year-old Tinker, her siblings and classmates wore black armbands to school to mourn the dead on both sides of the Vietnam war, and in support of Bobby Kennedy’s Christmas Truce.

The Des Moines School Board forbade wearing the armbands, and many students were suspended. 

Tinker, her brother and some classmates took the case to court, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union. In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled that students in public schools have First Amendment rights.

“Freedom of speech is seen as significant because it helps us pursue truth,” Kasper said. “It is essential for us to participate in democratic self-government, and it is fundamental to our personal autonomy to be able to live fulfilling expressive lives.”

Registration for this virtual event can be found here.

Stein can be reached at [email protected].