Introduction: Symbolic Politics, Constitutional Consequences*


  • Kate Bezanson and Alison Braley-Rattai** Brock University



Free expression that leads to the vibrant exchange of ideas is thought to be the very lifeblood of a democratic society. It appears self-evident that campuses, where even the most resolute ‘truths’ not only may but even should be examined and re-examined, are the nucleus of such a society. Despite this, campus speech has become a flashpoint for competing — some would say irreconcilable — demands. On the one hand is the view that some speech should not be tolerated in an environment that must embrace diversity that is also a hallmark of our advanced liberal democracy, and which should aim for the equality of its members. Per this argument, some members of the university community are treated unequally when speech that tends to reinforce their marginalization as members of a sub-dominant group is permitted. This view may also extend to pedagogical practice, and so we might identify the debate as to whether certain words are ipso facto impermissible, regardless of their intended purpose.2


*The phrase “symbolic politics” is drawn from Stephen Newman’s article (this issue).
**Dr. Kate Bezanson is Associate Professor of Sociology and Associate Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Brock University. Dr. Alison Braley-Rattai is Assistant Professor of Labour Studies at Brock University. Both hold LLMs (in Constitutional and Labour Law respectively) from Osgoode Hall’s Professional Development Program. The guest editors for this issue wish to thank the authors whose work appears in this issue, as well as Patricia Paradis, the Forum’s editor, the Forum’s copy editors, and footnote editors.
2 Randall Kennedy, “How a Dispute Over the N-Word Became a Dispiriting Farce” (8 February 2019),
online: The Chronicle of Higher Education <> [].