Colgate Receives Attention for Approving and Publishing Free Speech Report

Colgate’s report on free speech was released October 5 after being unanimously endorsed by faculty, the Student Government Association and The Board of Trustees. The release of the report has received attention from digital media company Inside Higher Ed.

The report urges the Colgate community to be receptive to unpopular ideas, stressing the value of an open mind and a robust dis- course, while also reaffirming Colgate’s commitment to include and respect members of marginalized and underrepresented groups. Inside Higher Ed covered the release of the report in an article on October 5, explaining both the content and intention of the statement.

Chairperson of the Task Force, Professor Spencer Kelly, said that the report signifies a new direction for Colgate on the eve of its bicentennial. Kelly explained the goals of creating the report.

“This is something to look back on, where we’ve been for 200 years. [It’s] the guide for the next 100 years,” Kelly said.

The Task Force was formed by President Brian Casey in the sum- mer of 2017 and consisted of the Dean of the College, thirteen members of the Colgate community, including professors, members of the Board of Trustees and representatives of the student body.

Its mission was to review existing Colgate documents and policies regarding freedom of expression and to draft a new statement appropriate for the modern context.

Members of the Task Force see their statement as a response to the statement from the University of Chicago, which affirms the principle of unrestricted speech except in circumstances that include threatening or unlawful expressions.

The Colgate statement reiterates this value, claiming “[The] University should support a climate of debate and deliberation that is open and robust, and must not suppress ideas because some consider them wrong, immoral, or offensive.”

At the same time, the Colgate re- port departs from the Chicago statement, emphasizing the importance of tolerance and sensitivity towards one’s audience. The statement reads:

“At times, expressions of free speech, even when exercised in all fairness of spirit, can hurt others, particularly over matters about which we care deeply but differ sharply. The Task Force encourages all members of our community to recognize that expressions can carry different weights depending on both who says and who receives them, resulting in potentially disparate effects on different members of our community.”

To this end, the report also urges Colgate members to create an environment in which all voices can be heard, including those from marginalized and underrepresented members.

“All members of our community can benefit from instances in which we voluntarily limit our expressions and inquiries to make room for others to speak, to listen better and to keep our own minds open to the views of others,” the statement reads. “Colgate should reaffirm its commitment to eliminate exclusionary practices, support the inclusion of marginalized and underrepresented groups, and promote equity of access and expression.”

Professor Kelly said he believes that the key to successful discourse within this model is to be mindful of the diverse experiences within one’s audience. Kelly compared dialogues within a community to that of a teacher trying to reach the largest share of students in a classroom.

“The best community will have individuals who are thinking, ‘How can I best reach across this diversity that is Colgate?’” Kelly said.

Derek Baker, who graduated in 2018, was a student representative on the Task Force. Baker agreed with Kelly and emphasizes the importance of listening in effective and respectful dialogue.

“Today more than ever it is so important that we are not only speaking, but also listening to the expression of others,” Baker said. “This document exemplifies this notion of listening and outlines the attributes of a community that doesn’t just speak to be heard, but speaks to solve problems.”

Contact Jenny Nguyen at [email protected].