As students at The University of New Mexico return to campus for the spring semester, they will have ample opportunity to engage in discussions about a myriad of social issues.
Top of the list: their right to speak or act on freedom of speech and expression.
Some events are organized rallies by student groups; some are brewing protests to polarizing events or speakers; some are informal gatherings or planned platforms to talk about the definitions and/or limitations of individual rights, academic freedom and civility.
In his first President’s Weekly Perspective message to campus as Acting President Chaouki Abdallah emphasized the unique position and critical role that public universities should play in fostering a challenging, yet hospitable, intellectual climate for all viewpoints to be part of a public discussion.
UNM’s policies encourage the exchange of diverse viewpoints, emphasizing that freedom of expression is central to the University’s mission.
“At times, the conversation and decisions will become difficult and will test our civility and our core beliefs, but at no time should we relinquish the role of UNM as a playground for ideas and a center for the freedom of speech and thought,” Abdallah said.
With protests planned on campus coinciding with the inauguration of incoming President Donald Trump, UNM is hosting an Honoring Culture: Advancing Social Justice event, aimed at encouraging students to positively address social issues.
“The goal is to provide a platform to openly discuss race, gender, class, and other social issues in a progressive, inclusive way,” said Rosa Isela Cervantes, director, El Centro de la Raza, which is organizing the event. “We are hoping that the event helps students know that we are listening to their voices and we care.”
The following week, several events are planned to help students and others on campus understand the policies and procedures that govern events, protests and discussions on campus. The Dean of Students Office will host “Student Free Speech: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities.”
One panel will include speakers who are specialists on the First Amendment, free speech law and open government principles. Another will discuss how to reserve space, what policies govern student organized events and how the student code of conduct applies.
“UNM has a very diverse population,” said Nasha Torrez, dean of students. “That diversity includes different points-of-view and the need to learn how to have constructive dialogue on issues. You don’t have to agree with your fellow Lobos, but we do have to learn how to listen and how to be heard. We grow as a community when you can have these conversations.”
Several other happenings this month will address unity through diversity, race and pedagogy, civil rights, free speech and using faith to confront hate.
Campus leaders are hoping the varied events will help the campus community to develop civil and thoughtful responses to controversial topics and speakers, such as Milo Yiannopolis, who visits UNM toward the end of the month.
“Moments of controversy are opportunities for our community members to vigorously express differing opinions and beliefs. However, UNM does not condone hate speech,” said UNM Acting Provost Craig White. “We urge all to treat one another with mutual respect. The University is committed to the safety of students, faculty, staff and guests in supporting peaceful speech activities on our campus.”
“As we embrace diversity and inclusion, we have to remember that diversity entails dealing with difference, including difference of opinion,” said Josephine de Leon, vice president for equity and inclusion. “In addition, inclusion is a bumpy-two-way street that requires us to allow others to be heard as we would like to be heard.”
January kicks off the semester with a full slate of campus climate topics but many other events are planned as classes continue this spring.
See the complete list below.