Employees, students consider new policies on freedom of expression, assembly

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Written by Patrick Scriven

On October 26, Southern faculty and staff members gathered for the first of two University Assembly meetings scheduled this academic year. The focus of the meeting was policy proposals for freedom of expression and assembly on campus.

These policy proposals will go back to the University Senate, which may bring back a revised version to the next Assembly in March.

Matt Tolbert, a professor in the School of Education and Psychology and chair of the meeting, explained that questions surrounding freedom of expression and assembly were “at the heart of what we were discussing.” 

“How should Southern address the intersection of employees’ freedom in sharing their views and maintaining and promoting healthy Adventist values on campus?” Tolbert said. “We want to encourage freedom of expression, while at the same time, we don’t want this freedom to be used to inflict pain on others. So, a policy that helps guide expressions on campus is helpful.” 

Two policies were proposed at the meeting—one regarding freedom of expression and one for freedom of assembly and forum. While the policies discussed regarded employees, Southern students are also subject to new policies surrounding freedoms on campus.

Last Friday, Student Development sent out an email to students informing them of important changes made in the handbook in regards to freedom of expression and public assembly and forum. 

The email emphasized that the university encourages public expression and diverse opinions as long as they “do not fundamentally conflict with the mission and identity of our Adventist higher-education community.”

The full policy on freedom of expression, which can be accessed in the school’s handbook, says, “Southern has the expectation that students work, individually and together, to create an atmosphere that is safe, valuing of one another, and open to diverse perspectives.”

So far, students’ response to Friday’s email is unclear. But Brian Garcia, junior allied health pre physical therapy major, has already expressed his thoughts on Southern’s approach to freedom of expression.

“I think [Southern] generally does a great job,” Garcia said. “And one good thing in particular is that it revolves its guidelines around God. But I also think that these guidelines can be seen as a passive aggressive way to say, ‘We’re here to protect these freedoms. But whatever the case you build for your argument, should we oppose, we have the final word.’”

Tolbert was eager to encourage students to be active in campus life and become involved in important decisions like these.

“I believe students have an avenue for voicing concerns through SA and the student senate,” Tolbert said. “These processes are in place for just that purpose. I encourage all students to engage in this process to ensure their voice is heard.”

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