Proactive tips for promoting free speech and inclusion

Psychology sophomore Melody Colón speaks during a protest on the Washington Avenue Bridge on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2016.
Photo credit: Chelsea Gortmaker/Minnesota Daily

    Invest in strategies to educate staff, faculty, and students on the First Amendment, academic freedom, and the importance of creating a diverse, inclusive, and equitable learning environment.


    Publicize a statement articulating the institution’s values. Make clear that free speech and inclusion are core to the academic mission, and present the statement as a binding set of principles to which the institution is deeply committed.


    Cast the institution as a staunch defender of free speech explicitly and frequently by, for example, defending the right of even controversial speakers to be heard as well as by supporting the right to counter-speech and protest. Emphasize that college is a time for young people to test and debate opinions and to hone their civic voices.


    Stand by faculty when they encounter issues that threaten their academic freedom or sense of well-being in the university community. Consider instituting a system whereby faculty can seek support from administrators if they feel their academic freedom is under attack. Ensure that faculty are educated about resources for dealing with discrimination and harassment, as well.


    Universities should be empowered to speak out against speech—even protected speech—that conflicts with the institution’s values. In clear and unequivocal language, leaders can make the case both for why even deeply offensive speech should be allowed and for why such speech is inimical to campus values.


    Create opportunities for students, faculty, and staff with opposing views to engage with one another on difficult issues. Programs and activities that facilitate dialogue can reinforce the value of free speech on campus while fostering mutual understanding.


    Campus leaders should promote active and deep listening. Through town halls, dialogues, and other forums that enable the exchange of views, campus leaders can help students find their own voices and practice listening to the opinions of others. These exchanges may involve meeting with campus constituents, engaging in consultative decision-making processes, and demonstrating a fair and reasoned response to calls for change.


    Whenever possible, campus leaders, administrators, and faculty should model giving others the benefit of the doubt, debating in good faith, listening with nuance and patience, and considering multiple perspectives on an issue. This approach can set a tone on campus that the institution cares about and listens to its constituents.


    Resources made available to members of the university community have a great impact on the campus climate and can signal the institution’s commitment to free speech and inclusion. If resources allow, consider hiring dedicated student-facing staff to generate resources and facilitate programs, and to be attuned to students’ concerns.


    Because students come from a wide range of backgrounds, it is important to ensure that student-facing staff receive cultural competency training. It is especially important for all mental health counselors and any staff who respond to trauma, such as sexual assault response teams.


    If your institution has a history of slavery, racism, or discrimination, it can be both symbolically and substantively important to take public steps to address that legacy and to identify and rectify systemic injustices that may still inflict harm. Universities are uniquely positioned to draw on the expertise and research of faculty and other community members to undertake a rigorous examination of their history.

External Resources

Photo credit: Chelsea Gortmaker/Minnesota Daily
Psychology sophomore Melody Colón speaks during a protest on the Washington Avenue Bridge on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2016. During the Paint the Bridge event, College Republicans at the University of Minnesota painted a panel with a Donald Trump slogan that angered students.