Words Unbound: Online Forum on Free Speech

The Davis Democracy Initiative at Punahou School recently cohosted a public online roundtable discussion on censorship with guest Maia Kobabe, an American cartoonist and author of the graphic memoir “Gender Queer,” which was the most banned book in the U.S. in 2021. A lightning rod for criticism, the book – Kobabe’s coming-of-age story – continues to be banned by multiple school districts nationwide today. 

The event on Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 5, was also sponsored by the Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, the Scholars Strategy Network, and the William S. Richardson School of Law. The roundtable featured moderator Maya Soetoro-Ng ’88 from the Matsunaga Institute for Peace; Stacey Aldrich, Hawai‘i State Librarian; Meera Garud, Instructor, Library and Information Science; Camille Nelson, Dean, William S. Richardson School of Law; and Marissa Halagao ’23, Punahou alumna and Yale undergraduate.

At Punahou, interested teachers and students watched the online forum live on their own. Meanwhile, 14 teachers from the Junior School and Academy gathered informally in the Chapel’s Lily Pond Room to view the event, eat caramel cuts and debrief together. One freshman joined the group. All agreed that it was an informative, civil discussion on topics ranging from freedom of speech to safe spaces for adolescents to the flare of culture wars in our nation. 

The Davis Democracy Initiative seeks to promote civil discourse and active citizenship through programs, speakers, outside partners and student internships. This event, coming early in the school year, opened opportunities for future collaboration with the University of Hawaiʻi and reinforced the desire of faculty across the School to discuss current matters that affect their students and classrooms. In the future, the Initiative will invite more students to informal gatherings like the one in the Lily Pond room, in addition to a slate of organized events that students also participate in. 

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