If a resident displays something offensive, disfavorable, or objectionable


    Gather as much information as possible about the display. Consider whether or not the message constitutes any kind of threat, or if the message involves vandalism, destruction of property, or other criminal activity. 


    When residents see something offensive, they may react with anger, sadness, fear, disgust, or a combination of several emotions. Even if your residents may not be keenly open to hearing you, it is vital that you reach out to offer yourself and your staff as listeners. Be active, present, and visible. An immediate public response, even if only to say that your office is aware, concerned, and investigating, is important. Remember to provide students with information about campus counseling services and other support resources.


    When speaking to or sending messages out to your residential community, it is essential to assert core values such as inclusion, tolerance, and mutual respect. 


    If the objectionable content references a certain group or groups, whether that be racial, ethnic, religious, sex or sexuality-based, ability-based, political, or another category, it is essential to consult relevant campus and local offices that work with those identity groups. Lead with solidarity and inclusion by working with these groups to coordinate responses that prioritize safety and community. Provide alternative accommodation options for students who feel threatened or unsafe. Students should have the right to leave as well as the right to stay in their current residence.


    Consider a range of responses. The gravity of the message, the voices of the students affected, and the communities involved should all inform a reasoned response that could include a wider public condemnation, or alternatively, a more discreet solution so as not to amplify the message and attract more attention. Nevertheless, keep in mind that the offensiveness of the message does not warrant regulating speech, and punitive action should only take place in response to clear situations of imminent and likely threats, harassment, or other criminal activities. Always consider campus policies and whether the conduct violates the law and warrants a disciplinary response. Choosing not to pursue a disciplinary response does not rule out other forms of response, including counseling and education, or adjusting rooming arrangements.


    Create spaces for community reflection and healing. Consider organizing opportunities for community members to speak out against hate. Any formal responses will spark conversation; be as transparent as possible and continue engaging with the community.


    Establish mechanisms to review and evaluate the effectiveness of your response. Look to other institutions’ responses to objectionable expression for examples of this sequential work.

Further Reading