Over the past academic year, a confluence of events throughout the nation has raised tensions on our campus, as well as at colleges and universities throughout the nation. Feelings of fear, hostility, and anxiety have emerged in an atmosphere of heightened political polarization surrounding the November 2016 election, racial violence and protests, changes in immigration policy, and the increased use of social media to promulgate provocative and arguably offensive points of view.
As challenging as these times may be, I view this as an authentic opportunity for our students to develop the capacity to engage in constructive civil discourse around differences of opinion and lived experience. Towards that goal, Santa Clara University has introduced a number of programs to promote a greater understanding of the rights and responsibilities associated with free speech and protest. Here are a few examples:
- The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics has initiated a yearlong Project on Freedom of Speech and Civil Discourse, featuring public events, educational materials, and a blog called “The Power of Our Voices.” A team of undergraduate Hackworth Fellows will work on this project, in collaboration with faculty, staff, and students throughout the University.
- The Faculty Development Program, with the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, has directed the focus of the longstanding VITAL (Vitality in Teaching and Learning) faculty discussion group to the topic of Inclusive Teaching. Resources and reading materials developed for this series are available to all faculty.
- Last Spring, administrative leaders and faculty participated in a daylong Workshop on Effective Communication, Intergroup Dialogue and Civil Discourse, with a focus on developing a “toolkit” for communicating across difference in our own conversations and facilitating intergroup dialogue and civil discourse among others. These approaches flow naturally from our longstanding commitments to Ignatian principles and pedagogy.
- Finally, I would like to remind all SCU community members of the University’s Speakers Policy, which exists “to assure the right of free expression and exchange of ideas, to minimize conflict between the exercise of that right and the rights of others in the effective use of University facilities, and to minimize possible interference with the University’s responsibilities as an educational institution.” It can be found on pages 56-57 of the Student Handbook.