Home Social Justice Graduate Student Senate discusses balance between free speech and harmful messages

Graduate Student Senate discusses balance between free speech and harmful messages

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Graduate Student Senate held its third meeting of the semester Tuesday, where it discussed solutions to the offensive messages on Ohio University’s graffiti wall and passed six unanimous resolutions.

Christopher Glick, the representative for the department of political science, presented his views about the recent controversy of the graffiti wall, saying academic pursual can only be accomplished on campus with the removal of anxiety. He said that while he is an ardent supporter of free speech, he is also an ardent believer in equality.

“There is a wall that exists both figuratively and literally …Very recently that wall was made an icon of bigotry,” Glick said.

Glick noted the multiculturalism at Ohio University is part of what adds to the value of an OU degree, but the existence of barriers between students devalues OU degrees by giving the university a reputation of “intolerant speech and cowardly imagery.”

According to Graduate Student Senate President Ian Armstrong, OU President Roderick McDavis addressed the issue last week. McDavis proposed a program called Cultural Awareness Training for Students (CATS) to promote diversity on campus.

Armstrong said that he met with the other four Senate presidents (faculty, student, administrative and classified) and that they decided something needed to be done about the graffiti incidents. They have drafted a letter to McDavis calling for a task force to look into his CATS proposal and other related issues.

During an open discussion of the wall, several members brought up the idea of making cultural sensitivity training a required part of the general education curriculum for students.

The idea was first proposed by Vice President For Legislative Affairs Angie Chapman. Claire Eder, the representative of the English language and literature department, said the English department has already discussed adding such material to freshman writing classes.

Commissioner of International Graduate Student Affairs Fatma Jabbari then endorsed this idea. She said she did not think the training should be devalued by being separate from education, where it will likely make the most impact on students.

“In order to prevent future mishaps, we would rather work on a mechanism to promoting diversity and cultural understanding,” Jabbari said.

Several members also supported a plan to combat negative messages by regularly painting positive images and words on the wall.

When Jabbari spoke in support of free speech, Glick noted that the messages on the wall — which he thinks could be classified as terrorism — may not be protected under the First Amendment.

“They expressed themselves in a manner that many, including ourselves, don’t agree with. While we disagree with any statement that might bring harm to internationals on campus, we absolutely support people’s right to express their ideologies, even when they conflict with ours,” Jabbari said.

“We don’t have to come up with a perfect solution,” Glick said. “Just one that will work.”

Among the various administrative resolutions passed were the appointments of new members and of Spencer Smith as vice president of communication; two resolutions regarding the use of Graduate Student Senate funds; amending the rules and procedures to add a commissioner of environmental affairs and a commissioner of governmental affairs; and the adoption of the results of a survey as an official Graduate Student Senate document.

Graduate Student Senate meetings are open to the public and held twice a month. Each meeting has a designated time for anyone in attendance to speak out about issues of concern. More information on the Senate’s meeting schedule and locations can be found on its website.

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