Civil Discourse Message – September 2016
Dear Members of the UIS Campus Community:
Like so many others, I have been distressed in recent weeks by the often toxic tone of the political atmosphere in our country. Our University is certainly not insulated from the sometimes harsh and divisive language that has become commonplace.
We are always mindful the First Amendment is a powerful and important safeguard for all points of view, including those we may not agree with and, as an academic community, it is important that we protect free speech and the full expression of ideas. As I said in my Convocation remarks several weeks ago, we want the UIS campus to be a safe place to communicate openly and intelligently about the issues that pervade our state and national discourse.
As is the case on most college campuses in the U.S., chalk messages on sidewalks are a common method of communication and are permitted in many areas of our campus. We do not intend to ban or place severe restrictions on chalking as some campuses have done in response to offensive postings. After all, chalking can be a way to promote involvement in campus and community events – or even to share inspiration.
We do expect that, as anyone communicates on behalf of a point of view or a candidate they support (whether in chalk or via some other communication channel), they do so in a way that is respectful of the members of our campus community. The UIS Student Conduct Code specifically prohibits “violence, the threat of violence, harassment or intimidation directed against another person or persons.” To the extent any message is viewed as threatening, it should be reported immediately to Campus Police.
When the phrase “Build The Wall” was chalked on our campus sidewalks several days ago, authentic feelings of pain and anger were provoked. Several student leaders have shared their feelings with me on this subject and I honor and appreciate their candor. I understand why such a message can be hurtful and I want to say unequivocally that I respect the outrage of those on our campus who feel as they do on the subject.
I do not ever want our University to be a place where certain groups feel unwelcome. Whether intentional or not, direct or indirect, clear or thinly veiled; racially charged euphemisms, epithets or slurs against members of our campus community are disheartening in light of our efforts to foster an inclusive campus community. I want our campus to remain a place where denigrating, divisive, disrespectful speech never becomes the norm.
Today’s current events provide opportunities for us to educate ourselves and the larger community and to engage in active citizenship that is so very much needed. We have to forge new ways on our campus to produce meaningful discussions about the tough issues of our time and I invite you to contribute to that effort this fall.
Let’s work together in the weeks ahead to build and reinforce a campus culture of mutual respect and tolerance, even for those with whom we disagree.