#SpeakYourPeace campaign educates students on free speech
The UA Dean of Students Office launched #speakyourpeace this fall, a campaign aimed at teaching students, faculty and staff about First Amendment protections on campus.
University campuses—especially public entities like the UA—are environments that have the potential to act as “marketplace[s] of ideas,” some of which might not resonate with whoever is listening and therefore lead to adverse responses.
Kathy Adams Riester, associate dean of students , said the UA wants to encourage dialogue on campus about difficult or controversial issues, but in a way that is nonviolent and enables people to safely have conversations.
“I think it’s important to know that while we might not like what someone else is saying—it might be hurtful, it might be rude," Riester said. "To our value system, it might be unacceptable. But without having that kind of speech, we don’t see movements of social change occurring. We have to allow those things we don’t like in order to have the ability to talk about the things that are really important.”
Students might be familiar with seeing preachers or clubs hosting events or rallies on campus that they don't agree with. Additionally, the rhetoric of this year’s election has created some concern at the Dean of Students Office that these political conversations might escalate to something more dangerous.
Riester said she hopes the #speakyourpeace campaign will help students, faculty and staff understand how to respectfully communicate and deal with those who do not know how to do so.
The First Amendment tab on the Dean of Students website offers a number of resources, including a rally tool kit that lists basic guidelines, a calendar of events related to free speech, a list of policies and regulations for campus, a page of resources for creating conversations and a place to report concerns regarding disruptive or unprotected speech.
The campaign will be putting up posters in residence halls, offices and sorority and fraternity houses around campus.
Riester said she offers training to groups that may host events with potential First Amendment implications. So far, she has trained the Women’s Resource Center’s FORCE interns and LGBTQ Affairs staff and interns.
“We talk about what’s protected speech versus what’s unprotected speech," Riester said. "So, where’s someone crossing the line, and then how do we go about monitoring that people are able to exercise their right to free speech and free assembly on campus."
Maddie Birr, an ecology and evolutionary biology sophomore and FORCE intern at the Women’s Resource Center, said she is a strong believer in the First Amendment.
“When you enter the world, you're going to be introduced to a lot of different rhetoric that may not always be consistent with what you believe,” Birr said. “An important thing to do is learning how to process that speech and how to use your own language properly and effectively, which is why this campaign is so important, especially as a tool on a campus of students who are just learning how important their voice can be.”
Riester said she emphasized the #speakyourpeace campaign at the Bernie Sanders rally last month, where she had people monitor the event to ensure the rally could actually happen while opponents could safely express their opinions without disrupting the it.
“Hopefully people are having these important conversations, but are doing it in a way that is respectful to each other and civil and nonviolent,” Riester said.
Students, faculty and staff can use the hashtag "#speakyourpeace" on social media to show how they’re practicing free and respectful speech.
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