Statement on Free Speech
FREE SPEECH IS CRUCIAL TO OUR SENSE OF BELONGING TO, AND OF OUR IDENTITY IN, A COLLECTIVE SPACE.
Coker University believes speech should be grounded in our unified efforts to include, to respect, and to care for all citizens. The freedom of speech ultimately yields controversy in communities that understand that truth is so complex that it can only emerge in mixed form. Just as the friction between two sticks yields the light of fire, the cacophony of voices that challenge, object, question, and critique can bring more light to any issue. Concurrently, the heart of education is the desire to make the wealth of human knowledge available, to foster new understanding, and to support ideas and actions that will lead to a more just and more equitable world for all humankind.
However, as we look out at the world, watch the news, or read social media, we may be dismayed by the words being spoken and the actions that are currently taking place–actions that divide, insult, and demean other people. The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented a rise in incidents of hate directed at people of color, immigrants and refugees, and people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. These events are occurring across the world, in the United States, in South Carolina, on college campuses. Coker University is not immune to this disturbing pattern of behavior.
We do not seek to omit differences among citizens. On the contrary, we value the diverse experiences that each citizen of the community brings when those opposing voices struggle to persuade and elevate. Diversity edifies this struggle. We value its potential to render interlocutors as agonists–those who struggle together in pursuit of some goal–as opposed to antagonists–those who struggle against opponents. This can ultimately lead to strength and concord.
Scholarship and education must take place in an atmosphere of civil discourse. We can disagree without insulting, offending, or hurting other people, but we will not remain silent in the face of intimidation, ridicule, or bigotry. Language that debases, demeans, ridicules, stereotypes, or belittles others is at odds with Coker’s educational objective and will not be tolerated. Therefore, it is necessary for members of the College to recognize and actively resist incidents of verbal harassment and intimidation, whether by voice, gesture, social media, phone or text, taking place on our campus. This behavior makes others feel unwelcome and is a violation of College policy; it has no place at Coker University.
It is up to each one of us to make the college a community that welcomes and celebrates the essential worth and unique qualities of each person. We hold ourselves and all around us to a high standard of speech–forgiving imperfect attempts at learning to speak in such a voice, but continuing to recognize that the well-being of diverse citizens is always at the center of democracy’s aim at Coker University.
For more information about free speech at Coker University, or to learn about diversity, interfaith, and/or inclusion initiatives, please contact the Center for Diversity, Interfaith & Inclusion Education.