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Letter to the Editor: GPSC condemns abuse of university spaces, public forums

By GPSC Executive Committee

Earlier this month, the names of victims of police violence were chalked in campus public forum areas as part of a “Say Their Names” event to acknowledge the significance of the lives lost. In response, members of our campus community crossed out these names and replaced them with “Blue Lives Matter” or “All Lives Matter.”

Since that time students have been asking the Graduate and Professional Student Council (“GPSC”), and specifically reaching out to our now almost three-year-old standing committee on diversity and inclusion policy, to take a position concerning these actions.

While the actions of these students were not in themselves “hate speech,” GPSC condemns the use of public forums and spaces provided by the university as a tool to marginalize any member of our campus community. Moreover, we do not support the use of these forums and/or spaces to shut down dissenting opinions, limit the free exchange of ideas or otherwise engage in communicative acts that stifle conversation rather than promote dialogue across difference.

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GPSC believes that a critical function of our institution is the promotion of dialogue and the free exchange of ideas, including those ideas to which there may be vehement opposition. To this end, the Graduate and Professional Student Council will stand firmly in defense of students’ right to free speech in so far as it does not constitute a violation of the policies and procedures of the institution. Further, it is the position of the Graduate and Professional Student Council that this right be used responsibly by all members of our campus community.

Even as we stand in defense of our community’s right to engage in the free expression of ideas, we are not obligated to agree with the ideas expressed. Specifically, it is the position of GPSC in that, “when actions of individuals or groups interfere with the legitimate rights of others and are directed at the disruption of the normal processes of university life, they must and will be resisted.” It is our position that the speech acts described above constitute interference with the right to free exchange of ideas and open dialogue that GPSC is committed to defending.

We, therefore, view the crossing out of the names of the victims of police violence, and other similar speech acts, as acts in direct conflict with core Southern Illinois University values as outlined in the mission of the institution, and thereby worthy of our strongest condemnation.

Let this statement not be read as condemnation of the expression of dissenting opinion: GPSC holds the position that protest and dissent, regardless of the source and content, must be protected as free speech. In the words of Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, “if there be time to expose through discussion, the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” GPSC, therefore, respects the right to the free exchange of ideas, even if we do not support the content of the ideas.

In so doing, we recognize that “free speech” ought not to be used as a tool to silence the voices of any member of our campus community and therefore condemn, in the strongest possible fashion, the use of free speech in this manner. The free exchange of ideas, including those deemed unpopular, serve a vital role in continuing the difficult national and campus-wide conversations currently taking place, and can better fulfill the university’s mission to “create and exchange knowledge to shape future leaders, improve our communities, and transform lives.”

Respectfully,

GPSC Executive Committee

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The student news site of Southern Illinois University