Free Speech in Challenging Times
As students return to The Beach current events could be causing stress in their lives, and in the lives of their friends and family. Faculty across various disciplines may want to consider acknowledging these real-world events when they welcome students in the classroom.
To help guide these difficult conversations, below are some principles on inclusive excellence and free speech at The Beach. This document was prepared at the request of and as a courtesy to faculty who may be wondering how best to help students through this period of time when there are few models of civil discourse around controversial issues. The suggested guidelines are by no means mandatory to share or meant to limit what could, or should, be said to students—they are suggestions for faculty who are thinking about how to begin conversations in our rather divisive times.
We value diversity. We welcome vigorous debate. We are committed to free speech and a safe and welcoming campus environment. We do not tolerate violence or speech that incites violence. Free speech is guided by the campus time, place, and manner policy.
Possible Talking Points and Periodic Actions:**
- Expand your welcome remarks to let students know everyone is welcome in your classroom. As a member of The Beach faculty, you practice tolerance and denounce hate and prejudice. Your classroom will strive to be a place of mutual respect where the focus is on learning and student success.
- Underscore your commitment to diversity by making The Beach as welcoming as possible to all students. You are a model of ensuring free speech rights are fully respected and protected. Even odious beliefs can be debated with civility.
- Educate your students that the campus will balance free speech rights against the right to be free of unlawful harassment. The egregious forms of hate speech that are prohibited include expressions that constitute “criminal” or “severe” harassment.” Mention that the right to lawful assembly is lost when individuals violate time, place and manner regulations and/or engage in violence.
- Check-in with your students on a regular basis. Share information about existing campus resources such as clubs and affinity groups, counseling services, and outlets for constructive free expression, as necessary. Share with peers in your department and college to discover their thoughts on how students are faring.
- Be mindful of your role in helping students to problem-solve, irrespective of their political persuasions, and allow the voices of students to help you better understand their aspirations and fears.
- Continue to encourage the success of all students as they learn, grow and develop skills for the future. Your encouragement will help them listen and learn. Often students don’t know each other’s “stories” and can simplify each other into shallow glosses based on uninformed stereotypes.
**Time, place and manner regulations refer to policies surrounding demonstrations or other assemblies. For example, although our entire campus is a “free speech zone,” for obvious safety reasons we have not allowed leafleting or congregating at the top or bottom of our campus escalators.
The sound volume from an assembly may also be regulated to ensure classes and general campus operations are not unreasonably disrupted. Groups of demonstrators must follow police instructions to lower their sound levels around classrooms, offices, day care centers, performance areas, etc. The campus may also, under certain circumstances, control the time of demonstrations based on legitimate safety concerns.
Peaceful assembly is guaranteed by the Constitution, but if violence erupts individuals’ rights to assemble are negated. Therefore, police may disband any violent assembly on campus posing a danger to people or property. No one may possess a weapon of any kind on our campus, including, but not limited to, persons who may be permitted to own and carry a concealed firearm. Only sworn police officers are allowed to carry firearms on campus.
It is important to know that the First Amendment does not permit the so-called “hecklers’ veto.” That is, it is illegal to shout speakers down, thus depriving them of their right of free speech.
Finally, students may demand that we not allow certain speakers on campus who insult them and/or their beliefs, identities, and so on. Except in situations of clear and imminent threats to safety, the First Amendment does not allow us to do so. If we allow any external speakers, we must allow all who meet our time, place, and manner policies in a content neutral way. Our best approach is to sponsor alternative events during controversial speakers to illustrate our value system.