Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Forum on Free Discourse in an Inclusive Community

Forum on Free Discourse in an Inclusive Community

Last night, we hosted a forum with a packed audience in Degenstein Theatre moderated by Dena Salerno (Assistant Dean of Diversity and Inclusion) and Scott Kershner (Chaplain) with Professors Nick Clark (political science), Michele DeMary (political science), Laura Dougherty (Theatre), Shari Jacobson (Anthropology), Jeff Mann (Religion), Laurence Roth (English), Hasanthika Sirisena (Creative Writing), Apryl Williams (Sociology), and Coleen Zoller (Philosophy) serving as panelists.

The panel addressed the question, “What is acceptable discourse in a community of respect, and how do we respond to the conflict between freedom of speech and hate speech?” This included prepared comments from Professors Clark, Sirisena, Jacobson, and Mann followed by the entire panel responding to questions posed by our student.

I shared a few framing thoughts, which included:

·      The 1940 Statement of Principle on Academic Freedom and Tenure of the American Association of University Professors states that “Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.”
·      We invite discourse from divergent opinions, but as a university we hold them to the same standards of scholarly rigor as in our own work.
·      This does not mean that all positions and perspectives are given equal value. As we develop as scholars and thinkers, we confirm and strengthen positions we hold to be true. In the classroom, faculty profess what they have come to believe is true through a career of research, debate, and reflection.
·      As a private institution Susquehanna is subject to a different set of expectations in its approach to contemporary issues from public universities. Like faculty in the classroom, we too, can identify and embrace particular values as an institution that shape the decisions of whom we invite to campus and declarations we make as an institution.
o   Our Mission Statement, Guiding Values, and Statements on Diversity and Inclusiveness and Ethical Living are prominent examples of this, but there are many other subtler positions we take as a university.

I was proud of our students for their very thoughtful questions and grateful to our faculty and staff for their rich, provocative, and instructive responses.

Some of my takeaways were:

·      “Speech is never free.” There are  legal, regulatory, and societal consequences for what we say and where we can say it.
·      The precision of the language we use around this topic is challenging and important.
·      Hate speech is never victimless, and as a community, we need to advocate for the safety and well-being of all our neighbors.
·      We need to continue to have difficult conversations, and these will sometimes make participants uncomfortable. Some of these conversations and topics have a better home in the classroom than on stage.
·      We need to help our students and each other develop the skills to effectively respond to hate speech and other acts of exclusion and prejudice.

This was an important first conversation for the year on the subject of inclusion. I am excited and hopeful for productive ongoing dialog on this important topic.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017



Today, I met a young woman taking a campus tour accompanied by her grandparents. The tour guide introduced us and informed me that the student was enrolled for the fall, but had not been able to visit campus before making the trip across the country to attend orientation.

I never cease to be inspired by young people who take a leap of faith and enroll in an institution not because of how it made them feel (although that can be a surprisingly important point of discernment), but because through careful study they have determined that that university’s curriculum, or setting, or articulation of community values resonates with their aspirations and expectations.

We have about 140 returning student leaders who will play a variety of roles in orientation later this week. They are our RAs, SCAs, and the infamous O-Team. This remarkable group of young people has committed a week of their lives to help our incoming students to become “oriented,” to feel valued, and to make the most of one of the biggest transitions in their lives. Many of these student leaders have told me that their own orientation experience was significantly transforming, and they want to help incoming students to “love Susquehanna as much as we do.”

While our student leaders were preparing to welcome the incoming first years and transfers, our faculty were engaged in a series of valuable workshops with goals that meaningfully overlap with the students’ preparations. The faculty spent the morning refining strategies for improved advising, particularly as it applies to our GO Program (Thanks to Swarna Basu, Jimmy Black, Scott Manning, and DuBois Jennings for their presentations). The faculty spent the afternoon in a session with Randy Bass, Vice Provost for Education and Professor of English at Georgetown University, discussing new paradigms for integration and inclusion in the teaching and learning work we do with students (Kudos to Betsy Verhoeven and Matthew Duperon for their work in organizing this session).

The energy and purpose of my colleagues and our student leaders to prepare our campus for the incoming students was a wonderful affirmation that the young woman I met earlier in the day had made a great decision—sight unseen. In the coming days, I know she will be happy in her choice. We are delighted that she is here.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

All Are Welcome — II

As we welcome students back to campus, we are delighted to remind the community that all are welcome here.

Monday, August 14, 2017

All Are Welcome

All Are Welcome

At Susquehanna University, we stand united behind our friends and colleagues at the University of Virginia in the wake of this weekend’s tragic events. We join them and all who support the ideals of our nation as we mourn the death of Heather Heyer. Our thoughts are with those who were injured in the attack in Charlottesville and their families and friends as they aid them in their recovery.

This harrowing act was the sharp spike in a growing wave of demonstrations of willful ignorance and a cultural failing to sustain a shared sense of humanity. White supremacy, the KKK, and other ideologies of exclusion and prejudice are repugnant demonstrations of hatred and evil that we must oppose together. The events in Charlottesville were a chilling reminder of how desperately our world needs liberally educated leaders.

Our mission is to “educate students for productive, creative, and reflective lives of achievement, leadership, and service in a diverse, dynamic, and interdependent world.” To this end we will not mourn passively. We will redouble our efforts to be a model of inclusion and to advocate for the rights and dignity of all our neighbors.

Peace does not just mean putting an end to violence or war, but to all other factors that threaten peace, such as discrimination, such as inequality, poverty. — Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese politician and activist

We welcome and support all who embrace peace and respect for the rights of others. We will not rest until all are welcome.


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