Campus Events Question Safety, Free Speech

Published: November 2, 2012

Audrey Werth

Over the course of the semester, a number of events addressing diversity on campus challenged feelings of security and free speech on campus. The first documented event, which occurred on Sunday, Sept. 16, the day before the Jewish Holiday, Rosh Hashana, involved a student posting swastika graffiti in Kendrick Lounge.

“There was an investigation and follow up with the AHADC [Anti-Harassment and Anti-Discrimination Committee],” Bob Graves, Dean of Student Affairs, said. “When I found out who was involved I spoke with those students and [their] parents.”

The events then continued on Wednesday, Sept. 26, when posters challenging diversity were posted and distributed throughout campus.

“Most [of the posters] were already removed from the walls by students before I got into work,” Ken Geremia, Director of Security, said. “The rest were removed soon after and either thrown out or brought to Student Life by students and staff who found them offensive.”

A group of students presented one such poster to Graves shortly after the posters were found around campus.

“Do I understand why they are upset by this? Absolutely,” Graves said. “I’m also reading [the posters] thinking what are they violating? There are all kinds of issues around this. What is free speech? What is hate speech? What is legal? What is allowed on this campus?”

However, this is not the first time the Simon’s Rock campus has encountered discriminatory views.

“In my six years here, we’ve had a swastika once before… we’ve had homophobic graffiti,” Graves said.

Though such incidents occur occasionally on campus, protocols meant to help mitigate the situation are in place.

“Resolutions to these issues range from mediating misunderstandings to committees or administrators suspending students or terminating employees,” Geremia said. “Obviously, the default intervention for an educational institution is to teach or educate.”

According to Geremia, it is important for students to learn from these experiences. However, the college administration wants to ensure that students are able to do so in a safe environment.

“We are supportive, but we’re not trying to be the ones controlling how people have the right to respond,” said Graves.

There is a large network of faculty and staff available to students with questions, insecurity, and need of support.

“I personally am speaking to many students, and some parents,” Geremia said. “I want to not just to offer support if I can, but make sure that students and others are receiving all the support the College has to offer. I’m also gathering information about and documenting any concerns.”

Faculty and staff are available to all students, regardless of their personal viewpoints. Graves emphasizes that excluding anybody in the student body is a disservice to the Simon’s Rock community.

“Respect is really the core of our student handbook,” Graves said. “You don’t have to agree, you don’t have to disagree, but you do so respectfully.”