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Dr. Paula Johnson: Transforming the Public Dialogue on Campuses

Since assuming her role as president of Wellesley College in 2016, former cardiologist and women’s health pioneer Dr. Paula Johnson has made it her mission to bring diversity to the campus, including welcoming the first transgender student to the women’s only institution this year. “We have to be intentional,” she says of diversity in higher education and across society. “We can’t assume that it’s going to happen.” She also stresses the importance of fostering free speech on campus, arguing that we must focus not on what we have the “right” to say, but on “how…we create the conditions that actually allow for productive conversation across differences.”

On creating gender equality on college campuses: “We've got to set priorities and goals. Those priorities and goals have got to be really embraced by leadership, and I mean leadership across the board. It cannot be siloed in any one department that is in charge of diversity issues…. I think goals…come out of data with data-driven people.”

On free speech as a tenant of American democracy: “I think it pops up as hot button in certain eras, and we're living that era right now. But I'm just going to begin by saying that freedom of speech is absolutely critical to our democracy, because once you begin restricting speech in one area, you risk it in another.”