March 9, 2016
While it is neither appropriate nor possible to speak out every time a member of our community posts a message in social media that is inconsistent with our principles of community, the matter is different when an elected leader of our student government engages in hateful forms of expression.
In his yearly campus message on “Free Speech in our Scholarly Community” Chancellor Gillman emphasizes the importance of supporting each other “when members of our community are subject to hateful, discriminatory and inflammatory personal attacks,” and urges us to “learn from each other in an atmosphere of positive engagement and mutual respect.” In defending fundamental rights of freedom of speech he points out that the best remedy for hateful or discriminatory speech is often more speech, not enforced silence, because “Hearing offensive viewpoints provides opportunities for those sentiments to be exposed, engaged and rebutted.”
Today I write to commend all members of our community who gathered last night and exercised their rights of freedom of expression to expose, engage, and rebut the sentiments recently expressed by one of our student government leaders. In doing so, I want to also acknowledge this as a teaching moment for our student whose behavior in this circumstance, even in light of his apology, might have fallen short of the goals and aspirations we suspect that he embraces as a student leader on campus.
Thomas A. Parham, Ph.D.