New PEN America Report on Campus Free Speech Controversies and Call

New PEN America Report Sets Out Principles to Defuse Campus Free Speech Controversies

NEW YORK – OCTOBER 17, 2016 – Addressing concerns that recent campus controversies may lead a rising generation to grow alienated from core American values of free speech, PEN America today released the “PEN America Principles on Campus Speech” to help guide university students, faculty, and administrators to advance inclusion and equality while safeguarding intellectual and academic freedom.

The Principles were released as part of the groundbreaking investigative report And Campus for All: Diversity, Inclusion, and Free Speech at U.S. Universities, which examines the future of free speech in American higher education. While declaring that there is no current crisis for free speech on campus, the report notes that “Free speech advocates face an urgent task to articulate how unfettered expression can be reconciled with acute demands for greater equality and inclusion, and, indeed, how such freedoms are essential to the realization of these goals.”

Coming from the American arm of the world’s leading free expression organization, the PEN America Principles on Campus Speech stand to shape the direction of these raging debates nationally, offering a way to address some of the most polarizing campus unrest in decades over issues such as sexist speech, racial epithets, controversial campus speakers, trigger warnings, and so-called “safe spaces” and “microaggressions.”

“The debates over racism, sexism, and homophobia that are rocking the national political discourse are also roiling American campuses, at times seeming to pit activists demanding diversity, fairness, and inclusion against advocates of free speech,” said Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of PEN America. “The PEN America Principles on Campus Speech recognize that our universities are more diverse than ever before, but not everyone feels heard. We aim to point the way toward a campus that is truly open to full participation by students of all backgrounds and viewpoints, while upholding–and in fact advancing–the values of free speech and unfettered inquiry that have made the American system of higher education the envy of the rest of the world.”

The report combines extensive research and thorough analysis of all sides of recent debates as well as three case studies informed by exclusive interviews with protagonists in some of the most pitched campus battle in recent years: skirmishes over free speech and issues of race at Yale, conflict around anti-Semitism and the movement to Boycott, Divest, and Sanction Israel at UCLA, and controversies over the implications for free speech of specific provisions of Title IX, the law that bars sex discrimination at educational institutions, at Northwestern University.

The PEN America Principles offer concrete guidance on how universities can approach campus speakers, the concept of safe space, campus civility, microaggressions and the language of harm, trigger warnings, and the relationship between speech and harassment under Title IX, among other topics.

In addition to releasing the report, PEN America will be continuing the conversation at a convening November 17-18 at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, featuring Yale Dean Jonathan Holloway, UCLA’s Jerry Kang, Slate’s Michelle Goldberg, and a number of the most prominent student leaders active in these debates.

The report, executive summary, and PEN America Principles are available at

To encourage and support informed media coverage of this important issue, PEN America will offer student journalists privileged access to cover the release with a conference call briefing on the report and the related free speech issues at 5pm today, featuring a Q&A with PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel, award-winning journalist and lead investigator for the report EJ Graff, and PEN America Trustee and Buzzfeed Culture Editor Saeed Jones. Journalists who wish to join the conference call should register at or call in directly:

The dial-in number is 1-888-585-9008.

You will be then prompted to enter a “conference room code.” Enter: 731-634-296.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Omar Safadi
(708) 663.0807

Emily Whitfield
(917) 686.4542