Bridging the gap between academics and policymakers, Duke’s Vice President of Institutional Equity & Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Benjamin Reese, testified before Congress in September to discuss an increasingly salient issue in the wake of the Charlottesville protests: the fine line between protecting free speech and protecting against hate speech. Joining other prominent diversity leaders, Reese addressed members of the House of Representatives’ Education and the Workforce and Judiciary committees.

Alongside University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan, NAACP President of the Legal Defense and Educational Fund Sherrilyn Ifill, and Southern Poverty Law Center Executive Director Richard Cohen, Reese was called on for his expertise in the diversity and inclusion space.  Dr. Reese described the way that Duke deals with different types of speech, highlighting the defining features of hate speech, “In no way are we trying to curtail free-speech, but if someone defaces a building, there is something special, in a negative way if that defacement has an element of racism, sexism, homophobia” (Duke TODAY).

He also cited Duke’s Hate and Bias Task Force as an example of how an institution can conscientiously include those voices representing the opposition – the current group includes students who actively protested in a “tent city” for several weeks in front of the administration building.  Addressing the concept of “echo chambers” in liberal university environments, Reese provided examples of strategies that purposely bring together a variety of stakeholders – including, perhaps most importantly, those who oppose the current system. As Reese explained, “We have learned that some of the loudest voices of protest often bring with them insights and perspectives missing in our usual discourse and decison-making processes” (Duke TODAY).

A psychologist by training, Reese also teaches as an adjunct faculty member in the departments of Psychology and Community & Family Medicine. He has served as a consultant to educational institutions, non profit and for profit organizations, and health care organizations around the US and internationally. He was a founding member of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education with over 40 years of experience in organizational change, race relations and implicit bias, and conflict resolution.

Interested in learning more about diversity and inclusion efforts at Duke? Learn more about Duke’s Office for Institutional Equity here.