Deja Graham: Free Speech: A Sword That Needs A Shield

Pictured, from left: Rev. Mark Blue, Athena Mutua, Legislator Howard Johnson, Serena Brahaspat, Mitchell Nowakowski, Deja Graham. Photo by Nancy Parisi.

Celebration of Free Speech, February 22, 2024. Pictured, from left: Rev. Mark Blue, Athena Mutua, Legislator Howard Johnson, Serena Brahaspat, Mitchell Nowakowski, Deja Graham. Photo by Nancy Parisi.

Published March 15, 2024

Free speech is a foundational principle of our democracy and something we have often failed to fully appreciate. We have lived in a very politically charged space for what seems like an eternity, which was only exacerbated by the last presidency. In recent years, there has been a reluctance to exercise free speech due to fear of retaliation through doxing, loss of job, and overall alienation from peers. My participation in the Critical (Legal) Collective Inaugural Convening, and, the Celebration of Free Speech on UB’s North Campus has given me a deep-rooted appreciation for free speech and a framework to continue to take steps to protect it.

The Baldy Center Blog Post 42. 

Blog Author: Deja Graham, 3L, School of UB Law

Blog Title: Free Speech: A Sword That Needs A Shield

In November 2023, I had the opportunity to attend and present at the inaugural Critical (Legal) Collective (“CLC”) conference at Duke University as Professor Athena Mutua’s research assistant. The CLC is an organization that was created in response to the wave of anti-CRT campaigns that has spread across the country. This inaugural convening was attended by students, faculty and activists.

The CLC conference was an opportunity for like-minded individuals to gather to teach, learn and discover how we can counteract that broad reaching mis-education campaign. Though I attended the conference to present our research and receive input regarding our shadow report we were expected to submit to the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Education, I learned more than I could have ever imagined by attending the CLC conference. I sat in on talks with professors, activists, members of the judiciary, and grass roots organizers.

There are two things that were transformative for me at the conference, the lunchtime talks with NC Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls and a workshop on project-based learning in law school. During Justice Earls lunchtime talk, she provided insight on how valuable free speech is especially in the politically charged times we are in today. Justice Earls, a liberal justice in what most would consider a “purple” state, shared her experience after voicing her opinion regarding racial, gender, and political biases on the NC Supreme Court. Justice Earls was a vision of what is necessary to protect free speech, take a stand when it is being threatened. I also attended a workshop, which in retrospect was geared towards the law professors in attendance, where the presenting professors spoke about their use of project-based learning. A professor from University of Chicago Law School, spoke about how she had a student rewrite the Dobbs decision through a critical lens and other students drafted did the same with brochures. My attendance at the CLC conference was transformative for me because it deepened my understanding of free speech and affirmative steps that can be taken to protect it, but also enthused my desire to become an educator and scholar in some capacity.

The lessons learned in both my work as Professor Mutua’s research assistant as well as through my attendance at the CLC’s conference informed my dedication to protecting free speech and celebrating free speech. The law school’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Belonging and Office of Student Affairs with the support of the Office of Inclusive Excellence and others planned and executed a riveting conversation regarding the celebration of free speech. The conversation was masterfully facilitated by Serena Brahasapat (2L) to discuss not only the importance of free speech but techniques we can implement to protect it. The diverse group of panelists provided expert insight and cunning stage presence which was filled with anecdotal stories and life experiences.

Free speech is something we must cherish, utilize, and protect by all means. Throughout the last few years, it has become abundantly clear that free speech has been under attack. In this moment, we must fight back and protect free speech.  The knowledge shared at the CLC’s inaugural convening and the Celebration of Free Speech will be crucial for individuals to become advocates and protect this right we cherish.

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Deja Graham.

Deja Graham

Author’s bio: Deja Graham is a 3L student at UB Law School from Queens, New York. She's passionate about Antitrust and Civil Rights law. Deja serves as the Editor-In-Chief of the Buffalo Human Rights Law Review, Parliamentarian for the Black Law Students Association, and is a student representative for the Law School's dean search committee.