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Office of the President

Message to the Community from Joel Seligman

Over the course of this academic year, a troubling series of racially-motivated incidents and controversies has occurred on college campuses, including our own. These events have spurred many conversations across the country about how to create a community in which all are free to express themselves and everyone is treated with respect. At our University we cherish  our core institutional values, which include freedom of speech and academic freedom.  We become a true community, however, when we add to these core values, respect for all members of the University community. Words and symbols, even when meant innocently or satirically, can hurt. 

Expressing ideas and conducting disagreements in a civil and respectful way increases the effectiveness of the communication by increasing the likelihood that what you say will be heard and understood. Civility creates a climate that encourages exchange and promotes dialogue.

Bigoted remarks and insults may be protected speech but they hurt individuals, they injure the bonds that forge our community, and sometimes undercut the communication essential to discovery and learning.

Today, we communicate increasingly through social media, which has enlivened and enriched our communications in many ways. But unfortunately, the relative anonymity of comments and posted messages has made it easier for a few to descend to slurs and insults as a medium for discourse. That phenomenon is corrosive.

Hateful speech hurts more than its targets—it diminishes our entire community. We are all members of that community. We should all take the opportunity to assert the value that each member brings to us all. We should not leave it to members of the group being attacked to respond. We should all speak up and demonstrate their value.

We enjoy enormous freedom of expression as members of a University community. No one polices what we say. But I urge all to conduct our exchanges with respect for each other and our community. We are a University of many races, many nationalities, many religions.  At our best, we welcome all as our colleagues and friends.