Freedom of Expression Workgroup Hosts Open Forum for Students

The event was held in the CUB Ballroom (Photo Vera Ekhator / The Gettysburgian)

The event was held in the CUB Ballroom (File Photo Vera Ekhator / The Gettysburgian)

By Benjamin Pontz, Managing News Editor

Evidently, trick-or-treating could wait for the roughly 60 students who attended an open forum Tuesday evening to discuss freedom of expression with members of the college’s workgroup that will draft an institutional philosophy in the coming months.

Students sat around circular tables in the College Union Building Ballroom to discuss their thoughts in small groups, a similar format to what the workgroup used when meeting with faculty and the Board of Trustees earlier this month.

“We’re on a listening tour,” said Dr. Jennifer Bloomquist, Associate Provost for Faculty Development, Dean of Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Programs, and Workgroup Chair.

The workgroup has met with several political and identity-based clubs and organizations on campus already and plans to meet with more in the coming weeks. While many of the students who attended Tuesday’s forum had already met the workgroup (including a large contingent from College Republicans), other students took the opportunity to share their views with the workgroup for the first time.

“We have received so many thoughtful comments from students,” said Bloomquist, referring both to input given at meetings and via an online form the workgroup has established.

Some attendees of Tuesday’s forum had hoped for an opportunity to engage in open dialogue with the entire room and were disappointed that the format had students discuss ideas in small groups at tables and then compile written written feedback to the workgroup.

“I was hoping for more of an open dialogue between different groups,” said Matt Salton ’20, Public Relations Chair of College Democrats.

Many of the event’s participants sorted themselves into groups reflecting similar ideologies, although spirited debate still emanated from some tables.

Two members of the workgroup — Dr. Hakim Williams, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies, and Patrick McKenna ’20, Chair of the Senate Policy Committee — feared that inviting feedback in the style of a town hall would not have been a productive way to solicit input.

“Debate could descend rather quickly into something that is not constructive,” Williams said.

The discussion that did occur reflected a variety of viewpoints.

At one table, Michael Mancuso ’19, Chair of the Senate Opinions Committee, facilitated a discussion that spent much of its time focusing on self-censorship and protection minority viewpoints from both college-imposed and more unspoken repercussions.

Elsewhere, Wellington Baumann ’20 opined, “Any constraint on freedom of speech is inherently not inclusive at an institution that prides itself on being inclusive. Everything that doesn’t violate federal or state law should be permitted at Gettysburg College.”

Salton took a more nuanced view. “Freedom of expression is necessary for a learning environment,” he said. “We should protect individuals from attacks but respect the right to attack bad ideas.”

For now, the workgroup will continue to seek input from across the campus community through the end of the semester, when it will begin to draft a statement that it plans to release near the beginning of the spring semester. Once a statement is released, Bloomquist said the workgroup may consider hosting a town hall-style event at which the campus community can provide further input.

Any student or student organization that would like to meet with the committee or make suggestions can contact any member of the committee, McKenna and Bloomquist said.

“We value any and all student input and look forward to hearing as many voices as possible as we work to draft this institutional philosophy on freedom of expression,” McKenna said.

Bloomquist concurred.

“We are not excluding anyone from this process.”

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Author: Benjamin Pontz

Benjamin Pontz '20 serves as managing news editor of The Gettysburgian, a position he has held since the middle of his first year, during which he wrote 50 articles on topics ranging from student activism on campus to sports. Ben also served as the event coverage and social media coordinator and led the paper's inaugural efforts using Facebook Live and live tweeting events on campus. He is a political science and public policy double major with a minor in music, and he reads up to seven newspapers daily. Follow him on Twitter @benpontz.

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