Binghamton University holds deliberative dialogue on inclusion and the First Amendment

As the population of the United States diversifies and political polarization intensifies at an unprecedented rate, colleges and universities across the country are struggling to strike a balance between protecting free speech and protecting freedom of expression. maintaining a safe and inclusive atmosphere for all students. At Binghamton University, a coalition of campus entities including students, faculty and staff have been meeting since spring 2019 to find ways to enable productive campus-wide conversations on these topics, culminating in a deliberative dialogue on the First Amendment and inclusion that took place on Monday, September 27.

The group had hosted two virtual roundtables in October 2020 and March 2021, which largely focused on freedom of speech and campus safety and gave selected students from all political and ideological backgrounds the same time to share. their points of view with the participants in a civil and mediatized forum. . The deliberative dialogue, which was scheduled to take place last spring but was postponed due to COVID-19, was supposed to involve the campus community more in those conversations.

“Deliberative dialogues provide a space to unbox really complex societal issues and identify solutions,” said Lea Webb, diversity specialist in the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and chief organizer. of the event. This method of dealing with challenges in a community focuses on individuals sharing their personal experiences and then examining the pros and cons of different ways of solving the problem. The aim is to fully explore the different options and determine whether there are complete or partial solutions that could be accepted by community members.

With whom is freedom? In a deliberative dialogue on Inclusion and the First Amendment, small groups of six to 10 students, faculty and staff examined three possible ‘frameworks’ or approaches to advancing inclusion and First Amendment rights on campus , discussing the advantages and trade-offs of each approach for 20 minutes.

“With deliberation, it’s facilitated and guided,” said Tanyah Barnes, associate director of operations for the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Division and a member of the planning committee. “You take a problem and put it in frames to intentionally review it. As you dialogue, you remove some of the power differential in the conversation, but you still have people who come with different personal experiences and different levels of work experience who can all share their unique perspectives on a topic. complex.

The frameworks used were adapted from the Free Speech & The Inclusive Campus topic guide of the National Issues Forum. The first cadre explored whether the First Amendment and an inclusive campus are in direct opposition to each other. Participants viewed this from the perspective of prioritizing the safety and well-being of students above all else. Part of the framework for deliberative dialogue includes taking into account external contexts specific to the circumstances of a community, such as Binghamton University’s status as a public institution, legally bound to extend the full rights of the former. amendment to all students. Participants were asked to consider ways to ensure the well-being of students without infringing on anyone’s constitutional rights.

The second framework asked participants to balance the rights of individuals with the responsibilities of the institution, on the premise that the University should welcome the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, even when it leads to the spread of ideas. controversial. Finally, participants discussed ways to create a campus culture that affirms the educational value of curiosity and engagement with different perspectives while guiding students through the uncomfortable feelings and experiences that are sure to arise.

Feedback from participants was generally positive, with many expressing appreciation for the opportunity to have these difficult discussions in a productive manner.

“I think [the deliberative dialogue format] worked well, ”said Alicia Mayo, a sociology student. “It allowed people of different opinions to talk to each other and didn’t create that tension of ‘I have to prove that I’m right’, while at the same time allowing you to give reasons why you feel certain ways, or why the way you think can eventually lead to change.

Following the conversations, the groups reported on the solutions they had developed for each of the executives. Common themes included providing more formal spaces for open dialogue, such as this event provided; have more proactive, clear and concise communications from the University that define the position of the institution, the constraints to which it is linked and the resources available to students; and provide more education and training for students, faculty and staff on First Amendment and campus inclusion.

Mayo and Webb were both upbeat about presenting some solutions that could be implemented fairly quickly.

“I liked the way we talked about the need to raise awareness of both definitions [of key terms and ideas] and the resources that provide those definitions, ”Mayo said. Webb suggested that incorporating these types of discussions and education on these issues into existing general education or first-year experience courses might be a first step.

“It was really great to have members of the administration in the audience to hear firsthand what people were going through, but also to share their thoughts and perspectives,” she said.

The planning committee will continue to meet this semester to formulate a report supported by additional research and data.

“One of the great things about deliberation is that you can actually develop a plan of action,” Webb said. “Our hope is that everything is gathered and ready to be shared by spring. It will certainly be shared publicly, with the campus and, of course, with the respective decision makers. “

Students, faculty, or staff who wish to get involved in this work are invited to join the planning committee, which currently includes representatives from the University Educational Institute, the Multicultural Resource Center, Discourse, and the debate, Center for Civic Engagement, Fellows Program, Philosophy Department Critical Thinking Lab, Department of Asian and Asian American Studies, Student Association and Graduate Student Organization. Individuals can express their interest by sending an email to [email protected]

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