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Free speech plan unveiled

Bob Knight issued a new plan for handling free expression on campus

Staff Writer

Published: Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Updated: Tuesday, June 7, 2011 17:06

 

The fliers posted on Clark College's main campus last fall were unavoidable. The message was clear, and many students and faculty were distressed and upset with what the papers had to say.

The fliers, posted by Clark student and National Socialist member Nathan Goncalves, supported white cultural pride. The Independent reported last fall that Goncalves cleared his second and third fliers through the Associated Students of Clark College, and did not display violence related to his message. However, students and faculty were astonished at the administration's inability to do anything about it.

Clark President Bob Knight issued a campuswide e-mail announcing a new diversity and free expression policy and value statement on May 19 in response to last fall's incident, outlining students' rights to free speech on campus.

"It balances the rights given to all of us under the First Amendment with our responsibility to provide a safe and orderly environment in which to learn and work," Knight said in the e-mail.

Knight organized a task force in November 2010 to come up with the new statement. The task force included Clark psychology professor Debi Jenkins, who was involved in a bias-based incident shortly after Goncalves posted his fliers, and early childhood education and psychology professor Kathy Bobula, who spoke on bias at Clark's Faculty Speaker Series on April 26.

"I see the plan as a responsive document," Jenkins said. "The plan is a wonderful addition to what the members of this campus already implement in their day-to-day experiences."

The new policy for free expression is presented in two parts: "Our Policy" and "Our Values."

The policy outlines what is protected as free speech by the First Amendment including the "distribution of fliers and posters," even if their messages might be considered as "‘hateful' or intolerant speech and expressive conduct."

The values section clarifies Clark's position and responsibilities during an event involving free expression.

"Any expression of hatred or prejudice is inconsistent with the values of Clark College and the purposes of higher education in a free society," the document states.

When it comes to messages like Goncalves's, Knight said, "I don't like it. I detest it. But I can't stop it."

The statement also includes protocol on how to handle bias-based incidents on campus.

"A bias-based incident includes conduct – including words, slurs or actions, explicit, implied or perceived – that violates Clark Colleges policy (on) discrimination," the document explained.

Clark students, faculty and staff, and campus visitors who witness or are aware of a bias-based incident are asked to notify the director of Safety and Security, Ken Pacheco, at 360-992-2123 or the director of Equity and Diversity, Leann Johnson, at 360-992-2355 immediately.

Clark's full policy and protocol on free expression and bias-based incidents can be found at bit.ly/jdddrd.

Knight hopes that the new policy and values statement will alleviate students' concern over campus safety.

"Creating a safe, bias-free college community requires more than policies and protocols," Knight said. "It takes commitment and persistence. We will support free speech but we also don't want students to feel unsafe on campus."

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