Different ways to respond to controversies over free speech and inclusion
When controversy arises on campus, there are a range of actions you can take to address the issue. Controversies can also illuminate underlying tensions and issues on campus and can thus be used as moments of reflection and self-evaluation.
When an incident reaches the level of campus-wide controversy, it is important for the university to speak out promptly and clearly. Statements should outline clearly what the university’s response to the incident will be, a principled justification for it, as well as an affirmation of the university’s values.
FORUMS AND PANELS
Forums and panel discussions can be effective ways of deepening a conversation. Dialogue in reaction to controversial incidents and events can easily become flattened and reductive. Creating venues for dialogue that encourages nuance and understanding can be effective in de-escalating community tensions, as well as furthering the mission of the university to encourage open inquiry and rigorous debate.
SPACE FOR COUNTER-PROGRAMMING
Allowing a controversial event to continue under the precepts of academic freedom is in no way an endorsement of the event’s content. If an event is contrary to the university’s values or has a negative impact on the community, creating counter-programming can be a way to affirm the community’s values and support community members while upholding the tenets of free expression.
ENGAGEMENT WITH AFFECTED COMMUNITIES
A controversy may reveal that certain communities on campus feel marginalized or alienated. Use the opportunity to conduct outreach and learn more about what these communities want or need from the university.
ESTABLISHMENT OF A TASK FORCE OR NEW RESOURCES
If a controversy brings to the fore an issue that requires more systemic change in the university, it may be appropriate to establish a task force to determine how the university can address the problem. Similarly, a controversy may highlight a lack of resources for students, faculty, or community members. Your response to the controversy may include a commitment to establishing these resources.
REASSESSMENT OF UNIVERSITY POLICIES AND PROCEDURES
An incident may also highlight that certain pre-existing university policies and procedures are flawed or ineffective, or that the university lacks relevant policies and procedures that could have been helpful in responding to the incident. The aftermath of a controversy can be a good opportunity to reevaluate existing policy, although a proactive review is even better.