Proactive ways to support free speech and inclusion in residence
Residential communities are a critical component to many students’ experiences of college. Invest in strategies to educate residents and residential staff on the First Amendment and the importance of creating a diverse, inclusive, and equitable learning environment. Resident Advisors should be trained in implicit bias and ways to promote diversity, as well as taught how to handle different speech-related conflicts and who to contact for support. Reflecting on the range of programming sponsored through residential life and how these might be used to educate students about free speech and inclusion would also be worthwhile.
Resident Advisors are normally on the frontlines of day-to-day, student-facing operations. Publicize a statement articulating your 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 a residential community—like a university more broadly—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. Explain how college is a time for young people to test and debate opinions and to hone their civic voices.
Residential staff 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.
Residential staff should promote active and deep listening. Through dorm-sponsored community events that enable the exchange of views, residential staff can help students find their own voices and practice listening to the opinions of others. These exchanges may involve engaging in consultative decision-making processes and demonstrating a fair and reasoned response to calls for change.
Whenever possible, residential staff should model openness and trust, debating in good faith, listening with nuance and patience, and considering multiple perspectives on an issue. This approach can set a tone on campus which indicates 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. Ensure Residence staff are dedicated to generating resources, facilitating programs, and paying attention to students’ concerns, and that they have the resources necessary to do so.