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University of California Center Fellows Focus on Campus Speech Challenges

Civic Engagement Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice Campus Safety and Violence Prevention Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement
September 4, 2019 Michelle Duetchman

You can hardly open the newspaper or scan a twitter feed without running into a story about academic freedom, expression, protest or bias on college campuses. The polarized political climate and partisan divide on views of higher education have led to heightened coverage of campus-based issues. This spotlight has focused our attention on studying the nuanced nature and magnitude of the problem and how to address it most effectively.

This is precisely what University of California President Janet Napolitano had in mind when she established the UC National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement in the fall of 2017: creating a space and resources for experts to think intentionally and pragmatically about the role of speech and civic engagement on campuses today.

Through our fellows’ research, our #SpeechMatters conference and other programming, we aim to further the national discourse about expression and create resources for campus stakeholders.

Each year, the Center selects up to 10 fellows from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds—leading figures from the worlds of law, journalism, higher education, social science, big data, technology, politics and government.  Fellows receive a stipend and research funds to advance their projects which include developing educational materials and programs that can serve as a roadmap for safeguarding and encouraging the free exchange of ideas. Each fellow will spend a week at one of the 10 UC campuses to dialogue with students, faculty, administrators and others, gleaning crucial insights to inform their ongoing work

This year’s class of fellows features a talented group of academics, student affairs professionals, lawyers and students-- each of whom is addressing a timely and complex issue pertaining to expression and engagement on campus. Three projects are dedicated to exploring and providing guidance to student affairs professionals who are busy navigating a challenging climate.

Melissa Barthelemy, a UC Santa Barbara public history Ph.D. student, will create a toolkit for student affairs administrators and university leaders to help them balance demands for freedom of speech and the promises of equal educational opportunities. She also will host a one-day symposium at UC Santa Barbara that will bring stakeholders into conversation around speech issues.

Jonathan Friedman, Director of PEN America's Campus Free Speech Project, aims to conduct surveys, interviews and focus groups with professionals working in student affairs, offices of diversity and inclusion and housing directors and staff in order to develop resources to help them be strong advocates for free expression and inclusion.

Nikita Gupta’s project is dedicated to supporting student affairs professionals by bolstering their ability to respond to crises through an interdisciplinary skill-building program. This program will use theoretical frameworks of neurobiology, trauma-informed practice and healing-centered engagement, growth mindset, mindfulness and strategies for community resilience. Nikita is the Director of the GRIT Coaching Program at UCLA, and she will be presenting at the NASPA Student Affairs Law Conference.

Understanding how best to navigate complex expression and engagement issues on campus—especially during an election year—could not be more timely.  The 2019 NASPA Law Conference will feature sessions led by myself and a number of Center fellows on topics of student protest, disruption, and campus press. We very much look forward to meeting many NASPA members in San Diego this December. In the meantime, if you are interested in receiving information about Center programs and opportunities, please email bpitcher@uci.edu