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You Can't Say That Here: Balancing Free Speech and Campus Safety

Civic Engagement Campus Safety and Violence Prevention
June 27, 2019 Eleanor JB Daugherty Madison Maynard

Free speech is a topic that has become controversial on college campuses nationwide. How can we, as college administrators, welcome divergent viewpoints, and encourage students to exercise their voices and explore their political perspectives, while also upholding our responsibility to maintain campus safety from imminent threats of harm?

This session will explore how the University of Connecticut has created procedures to operationalize its values of student engagement, student activism, and free speech, and will discuss the role of university leadership in these matters, as the primary stewards of the university’s mission and values. 

More Information

In this presentation, we will examine the controversy regarding a 2017 speaking engagement, which brought a controversial commentator to campus just after Election Day 2016. This event, and the resulting student protests of the speaker, garnered national media attention, and led to the arrest of the speaker. Existing event procedures proved inadequate, resulting in confusion regarding the University’s stand on inclusion and social justice, in addition to a rise in student concerns about the protection of their First Amendment rights. We will discuss how, as a large, public, flagship institution, we have developed a method to respect the constitutional rights of our students while also providing oversight of student events so as to stay committed to our values of inclusivity, safety, engagement, and student support. 

We will discuss the University’s Event Planning Review procedures, and the process by which we hold candid conversation and open dialogue with our students about their proposed events and visiting guest speakers. We will introduce an event procedural form, used in these conversations, and examine its recent restructure and re-organization to create consistency amongst these review procedures. We will discuss our responsibilities to reiterate institutional values surrounding safety, validate student concerns, and deliver timely and effective responses to the campus community, while our institution’s reactions remain under the national spotlight.

Learning Outcomes

By participating in this session, attendees will:

  • gain a concrete understanding of UConn's event procedures so that they may be adapted and restructured to conform to the needs of your university; 
  • develop the means to create a campus team to review and respond to requests for speakers and programs that may be controversial on your campus;
  • learn and understand how a leading research institution defines safety in regards to free speech; and
  • learn how to educate and proactively engage with student organization leaders and advisors.
Course Length
60 minutes
Course Type
On Demand

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