President Riggs emphasizes support for freedom of expression but will not ‘protect you from things that people say that offend you.’

Following a Student Senate discussion a couple of weeks ago regarding freedom of expression, President Janet Morgan Riggs came to address the Student Senate body this past Monday, Nov. 27. This is a topic of discussion and debate, which has spanned a number of months — and included an open CUB Ballroom discussion at the end of October.

A work group was assembled in order to take the next step towards moving the campus forward on the adoption of a campus-wide philosophy on freedom of expression, President Riggs said.

“The group that I put together is not representative of the community at large, and it is not a committee,” said President Riggs. “And it has no decision making authority contrary to popular belief. It’s just a group that I asked to facilitate the conversation, and I think that they’ve been doing a really great job of that.

“The other thing that I wanted to be clear about because I’ve heard some say that they think the reason that we are having this discussion is so that we can clamp down on expression on campus. I have to tell you that my intention is the opposite of that. My hope is that the conversations being had on campus will help our community understand why freedom of expression is so important on a college campus. And it can make us uncomfortable, angry, but clamping down on expressions can have more negative effects than opening up the conversations.”

After the address, there was a brief Q&A.

A Student Senate vote on the this campus-wide philosophy does not have any decision making power but would be strongly taken under consideration, President Riggs emphasized when asked in different ways whether Student Senate would have any influence on the philosophy.

One senator brought up the point that freedom of expression is impossible to reach for all students, and that some ideas are just naturally incompatible.

The senator continued to show the sentiment that there are understandable limits to freedom of expression within the national philosophy, but that an agreed upon decision by the Gettysburg student body would make cuts somewhere beyond these national policies. In the end, someone or some group’s freedom of expression would be limited, and ultimately, freedom of expression would then be limited on campus as a result.

One club representative expressed concern about the future philosophy statement needing to address safety, and President Riggs had a response.

“You may not like what I’m about to say, but I had a student come to me last year, and he told me that my job was to protect him,” said President Riggs. “And I said that this is not entirely true. And I kind of upset him. I said in terms of physical protection — yes. Yes, it is part of my responsibility to ensure that you are physically safe, but I am not going to try and protect you from things that people say that offend you. But what I do want to do is to prepare you and your peers to respond to offensive behavior. That is our roles as educators, and I’ll be the first to say that there are some grey areas.”

The timeline for this freedom of expression philosophy statement is nearing the drafting stage, which will facilitate more comments and feedback. Then, there will be redrafting of the statement — which will be voted on by the Board of Trustees and faculty, along with the Student Senate, potentially.





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