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CBSRZ: Michael Roth Book Talk: Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, & Political Correctness on College Campuses

Submitted by Wendy Bayor, CBSRZ.

College President, historian, curator, and teacher Michael Roth and his new book,
Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness on College Campuses
at Books & Bagels
Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek in Chester, CT
Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, at 10:30 a.m.

A topic that could not be more critical in today’s social, political and cultural climate with the rancorous debate swirling around the purpose and the relevance of the university in our polarized world.

For so many American kids, going off to college is the dream, the goal, perhaps even the obsession that shapes most of their pre-college academic life. But the reality of today’s college experience may turn out to be very different from what an incoming freshman expects. Will that reality be liberating or stifling? Provoking or conforming? Threatening or reassuring? Instead of reasoned intellectual enquiry, students often encounter raging debates about inclusion, affirmative action, privilege, political correctness, free speech and triggering warnings. While some students thrive in such an atmosphere, many others retreat to their corners, withdrawing from even considering the issues that raise such intense passions.

Enter Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University, who focuses our attention on the central mission of higher education in Safe Enough Spaces. Clearing aside the distorted rhetoric of high passion, Roth charts a pragmatist’s path through the thicket of serious issues today’s colleges and universities face. With empathy, subtlety, and clarity, Roth envisions college as a space in which all students are empowered to engage deeply with a variety of ideas, including those that are disturbing. In such a space—safe from debilitating harm but not from the discomfort of intense debate and substantial disagreement—students can develop a sense of who they are, what matters to them, and what they hope to make of their lives.

It is difficult but altogether possible to create a space that is safe enough for diverse and unpopular perspectives and where no idea is protected from reasoned challenge, Roth argues.  Considering cases from around the country and drawing on decades of firsthand experience as a college administrator and professor, Roth offers realistic and concrete solutions to provide a rigorous, bracing, and genuine education to all college students.

In his review of the book, Northwestern University’s Provost Jonathan Holloway wrote “Keywords like free speech, diversity, and safe spaces have become weaponized, littering higher education with political land mines. Michael Roth has cleared a path for us, offering a deeply reasoned argument about how we can return to the good-faith exploration of challenging ideas that are essential to the preservation of our democracy.”  And Jeffrey J. Selingo, New York Times bestselling author of There Is Life After College and College (Un)Bound, noted that “Michael Roth provides a critical wake-up call, showing us how the reputation of the American higher-education system is at risk if we buy into the shortsightedness of today’s political environment and fail to see the strength of what has lasted us centuries. This thoughtful and valuable book is a must-read for anyone that cares about the future of higher education, indeed the future of our democracy.”

Come to Books & Bagels at Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek, in Chester, CT, on Sunday, Dec. 8, at 10:30 am, to meet Michael Roth and hear him talk about his book at the event that is open to the public and free of charge. Light refreshments will be provided. Copies of the book will be available for sale and for autographing after Dr. Roth’s talk.  Don’t miss this Books & Bagels which zeroes in on a topic of critical importance for us all.  For more information, visit www.cbsrz.org or call 860-526-8920.

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