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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Symposium on free speech on college campuses details efforts to encourage civil discussion

On Sept. 26, 2016, Mi-Ai Parrish, Nicole Carroll and Phil Boas stood in front of a live online audience and told them why the Arizona Republic had broken with its traditionally conservative stance — one that had stood since 1890.

“We fielded thousands of angry calls — tens of thousands of angry calls, and emails — and we did lose subscribers and we got death threats,” said Parrish, president of Republic Media.

She didn’t regret the editorial board’s controversial decision to endorse Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for president, and she said she would do it again.

The election brought a greater importance to understanding and publishing different views, Parrish said during her keynote address at the second annual Constitutional Issues in Higher Education Symposium, June 22 hosted by the dean of student office at the James E. Rogers College of Law.

The Arizona Republic made it its mission to find pro-Trump columnists to write about that perspective, but the rise of the Republican front-runner still came as a surprise.

“That creates a responsibility for us and for our community to not only understand that point of view and that concern and those issues, but to make sure it gets reflected in our pages and in our opinions,” she said.

The past year brought many learning experiences and valuable lessons, according to Parrish.

“I think that the anger and fear, the frustration, the disconnection, the divisiveness that we’ve seen in the last year are ignored at our peril,” she said. “I think that those who value democracy, as all of us do, those who have the ability to reflect and to listen and to partner and to lead in a constructive way, I believe we have an obligation — we have a responsibility.” 

Parrish’s comments introduced a full-day event on topics of the evolving political rhetoric as it pertains to college campuses. Speakers detailed the efforts of the UA and other college campuses to help encourage and engage students in civil discussion.

Kendal Washington White, dean of students, told guests of the symposium the UA is committed to inclusiveness.

“As a land grant institution located on the lands of the Tohono O’odham people, bordering Mexico, we are serious about our responsibility to provide inclusive and accessible education in our work and interactions with the community,” she said. 

Here are a few of the ideas colleges around the country are trying to protect free speech on their campuses.

RELATED: Column: The politics of discussion on campus


UA has dealt with several incidents on campus between students and campus preachers. Most notably in 2016, Brother Dean Saxton was arrested and banned from campus for a year for kicking a female student in the chest.

Universities continually face the challenge of protecting its students and their learning environment while also protecting First Amendment rights on campus.

Tyson Langhofer, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, Chrissy Lieberman, associate dean of students at the UA and Kendra Hunter, senior associate dean of students at Arizona State University, discussed ways they help facilitate dialogue. 

Lieberman said there are a variety of views on campus, but a general lack of education regarding the First Amendment. 

When defining civility, educators and parents must help students understand the importance of civil discourse and institutions must draw the line on when to protect First Amendment speech, Langhofer said.

Lieberman finds her work fostering the students’ development of different ideas an exciting task.

“I think — having worked with students my whole career — that they’re interested in challenging the she said.

Lieberman said recognizing religious clubs is important, but administrations have distanced themselves to protect their image.

“The reality is we stray away from it because we’re so afraid of funding something that could be perceived as proselytization or the establishment of one particular religion,” she said. “That fear has distanced us way too far that we just ran away from it, and now we’re in this place of intolerance.”


At Rollins College, the administration received death threats when dealing with an incident between a faculty member and a student over religion.

Mamta Accapadi, vice president for student affairs at Rollins said it was an inaccurate portrayal of an alleged “radical” Muslim professor oppressing a Christian student in a classroom setting that brought hateful speech towards the administration.

The student claimed he challenged his professor’s tolerance of another student’s views and was reported by the teacher for making threats to the teacher, via email, and being disruptive in the classroom.

The student was suspended and later reinstated. While the college administration found he did cause disruptions, he didn’t actually violate the school’s Code of Community Standards.

Accapadi said the outside attacks were not about the incident, but rather people’s feelings in the world.

“I noticed that people asserted their rights,” she said. “We assert our rights when we do not feel that our journey has been acknowledged with legitimacy. That’s across any spectrum of belief.”

Accapadi said relying on legal interpretations to shape guidelines limits the conversation, and we should use our rules to advance equitable learning experiences that reflect who we aspire to be.

“When did we determine that what we have the right to do was our operating standard of humanity?” Accapadi said. “When did we confuse our legal and legalistic processes to be just or justice-based processes? They’re not the same.”

She said it’s not just navigating rules, but also being a steward of students’ hopes and dreams on campus.


Demetri Morgan, assistant professor of higher education at Loyola University Chicago and Lance Watson, director of student conduct and community standards at the University of Kansas spoke about “Bias Incident Response Teams” or BIRTs and how they operate.

The UA currently has a Behavioral Intervention Team, which assesses and coordinates the responses to student behavior that may require intervention.

Morgan said with the rise of social media there has been more awareness drawn to bias incidents and the need for action.

He said BIRTs were created to respond to incidents that don’t fall within a campus safety category or the conduct process.

“What they’re about is balancing the support of victims that are experiencing these bias incidents with this idea of fostering equitable and inclusive diverse learning environments,” Morgan said.

Watson said BIRTs are not part of the code of conduct process, and there should be a clear separation. He said that the teams should not function as a disciplinary unit on campus.

He also said that the response team’s place on campus is to help foster both free expression and inclusion.

“When we think about the goal of higher education, it is to challenge the status quo,” he said. “It’s to challenge folks to think deeper about what it means to be a member of the community of the United States.”

RELATED: Panel discusses line between free speech and hateful statements


The UA club Students for Reason, Individualism, Value Pursuit and Enterprise recently held an event to encourage students to learn about free speech and not letting it be suppressed.

Accapadi and Lee Bird, vice president for student affairs at Oklahoma State University-Stillwater, talked about how free speech and student support are connected.

Both speakers think the First Amendment and student advocacy are not separate.

“I think advocacy is so much a part of what we need to be doing, and I think to set it up as this or that is just kind of horrible,” Bird said.

She said the collegiate experience should allow students to learn that a marketplace of ideas is important and is maintained by all people being open to them.

Follow Shaq Davis on Twitter.

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