SUNY New Paltz Students:
I am excited to welcome all New Paltz students to the start of the academic year --new first-year and transfer students, returning students, and international students. We are eager to support each of you in your academic endeavors at SUNY New Paltz, and to do everything we can to help you be successful.
I write to share perspective on recent events and the tenor of our national political dialogue that are very troubling to me, many faculty and staff, and I am sure many of you. These are times of anger, fear, and confusion, and it is important to reinforce that SUNY New Paltz strives to be an accepting and comfortable environment for all, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, race, age, religion, national origin, ability and more. I hope that some of the words I spoke at Convocation for new students and at my State of the College address for faculty and staff last week assure you of the values that I as President and that our campus hold dear.
Our new academic year follows recent horrific events in Charlottesville, Virginia. Many have been alarmed by these terrible acts of bigotry, hate, and violence, including the actions of white supremacists, Neo-Nazis and KKK members. We denounce and reject such hateful acts, which fly in the face of who we are and what we value. Let me be clear that hatred, bigotry, racism, intolerance, and violence are not part of my personal values, nor those of our campus. We will continue to condemn such acts and the individuals or groups that perpetrate them.
At the same time, we have a responsibility as a public university to uphold rights to free speech assured by the First Amendment. It is important that we understand and respect the fundamental importance of free expression and diverse views on a university campus, including the right of views across the entire political spectrum to be voiced.
Free speech rights are in tension with some of our other core values. Some speech disenfranchises and marginalizes some community members, especially those who may feel they do not have the same privilege or opportunity as others to exercise their free speech rights. And, we struggle sometimes to understand that certain speech, provided it does not cross the line into intimidation or threat, is still protected speech, even when it hurts, upsets, or offends people.
But know that even as I am bound to uphold these rights, my support for free speech principles on campus does not mean that I agree with all views expressed or that I afford moral equivalency to all views. This is a good point to reiterate the often-stated advice that the best counter to offensive speech is more speech.
These are tough, complicated issues with no easy answers. As a university community, we commit to continued teaching and learning about free speech, viewpoint diversity, and the relationships between speech and our goals of creating a diverse, inclusive, and equitable campus learning environment. Last year’s free speech faculty task force compiled a set of valuable resources (http://www.newpaltz.edu/president/freespeech.html
) that are worth reviewing. These will help inform discussion of these topics as we take advantage of further learning opportunities surrounding free speech and viewpoint diversity.
Know that our campus takes every step we can to keep members of our community safe. Changes in federal immigration enforcement and travel policies threaten many students and their families and some faculty and staff. We will support you to the full extent possible through SUNY policies and state and federal law. We also know that many of our international students have felt increasingly uncomfortable about coming to the U.S. to study. I have encouraged faculty and staff to heighten our efforts to help you feel at home here.
I also want to recognize the impact that the recent executive order calling for a ban on transgender individuals from serving in the military has on members of the LGBTQ community. I want to reassure LGBTQ members of our campus community that we continue to welcome your voices and experiences and that we strive to support you as you live, study and work at SUNY New Paltz.
We must support each other with a strong sense of community, empathy, careful listening, and attention to the impact of our words on others, intended or not.
I wish everyone a productive, rewarding, and healthy year.
Donald P. Christian