Committee Seeks to Address Freedom of Expression on Campus

Caroline Ahearn ‘20

Chief News Editor

Since the spring of 2017, Holy Cross has been working to address the need for a college-wide shared philosophical statement on Freedom of Expression. This need arose from a response to crises many colleges and universities were facing regarding controversial guest speakers, such as the protests at UC Berkeley over an appearance by right-wing commentator Milo Yiannopolous.

Initial work on the statement began in late 2017, and by the spring 2018 semester a committee of faculty, staff, and students was formed. The Freedom of Expression Committee is co-chaired by Vice President for Students Affairs and Dean of Students Michele Murray and Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Amit Taneja. Other committee members include Donald Brand, Professor of Political Science, Adrian Cacho ‘19, Co-President of the Student Government Association, Miles Cahill, Speaker of the Faculty and Professor of Economics, Meredith Coolidge ‘19, Co-President of the Student Government Association, Adeline Gutierrez ‘19 of the Student Government Association, Brenda Hounsell-Sullivan of the Office of Student Involvement, Paul Irish, Dean of Student Affairs, Marybeth Kearns Barrett of the Chaplain’s Office, Mary Roche, Professor of Religious Studies, Ann Sheehy, Professor of Biology, and Fr. Jim Stormes, S.J., Professor of Economics and Accounting.

On February 12, Dean Taneja sent an email to the entire Holy Cross community announcing the first draft of the Freedom of Expression Statement, which emphasizes the College’s “academic community and collective pursuit of knowledge, understanding, and truth,” as well as the “values of freedom, mutual respect and civility.” The statement affirms the right of community members to engage in the free exchange of ideas, while again emphasizing the importance of Holy Cross’ academic and religious values.

Additionally, Taneja’s email announced a series of listening sessions for members of the campus community to provide feedback on the draft. These listening sessions follow the SGA-sponsored fishbowl discussion on Freedom of Expression.

“We are pleased to have received some feedback about the draft statement via the email and through the initial listening sessions,” said Dean Murray. “The feedback itself is reassuring in that not only do our campus constituents care about this topic, but also they are providing thoughtful feedback rooted in our mission and who we are as an institution.”

The first two listening sessions, held on Thursday, February 14 and Tuesday, February 19, were open to all students, faculty and staff, while the remaining three will be exclusive to each respective group. The staff-only session was held on Friday, February 22, while the faculty-only session will be held Monday, February 25 from 4-5 p.m. in Hogan 305, and the student-only session will be held Wednesday, February 27 from 6-7 p.m. in Hogan 408.

In addition to the listening sessions, members of the Freedom of Expression Committee will be meeting with several leadership and governance structures across the campus, such as the Student Life Committee, Academic Governance Council, President’s Extended Cabinet, Student Government Association, the Mission and Identity Committee, Academic Department Chairs, Trustees, Management Advisory Group, and Student Affairs Directors, for additional feedback.

At the conclusion of the review process, the committee expects to bring a revised statement for endorsement to the SGA and the Faculty Assembly before the end of the semester.

“Our hope is that students, faculty and staff will bring their diverse perspectives to this conversation. The committee will consider all feedback collected, and make changes as necessary,” said Dean Taneja. “Our hope has always been for this to be a campus wide shared statement, so we will look for an endorsement of the revised statement from the SGA and the Faculty Assembly toward the end of the current semester.”

Photo by Hui Li ’21.

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