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Princeton’s excellence depends on the free exchange of ideas

W. Rochelle Calhoun

A great University like Princeton encourages its students to think differently.

Being a Princetonian means learning from world-class faculty, diving deeply into the world’s biggest ideas and challenges, and sharing a campus with people from across society and around the world. Through those experiences, we expect that your ideas and assumptions will be challenged. In turn, we expect that you will challenge the ideas and assumptions of those around you. This exchange is central to a university that is committed to excellence, and can only take place in an environment that protects free speech and the free expression of all views.

Free speech at Princeton includes the right to acts of peaceful dissent, protests in peaceable assembly, and orderly demonstrations. Such protests and demonstrations strengthen the fabric of our community by pushing all of us to consider different points of view and reconsider our own ideas.

We encourage students to engage in open dialogue, and disagreement, in ways that are respectful of all our community members and guided by principles of respectful discourse. Just as the University encourages and supports free speech, it recognizes the need to ensure the safety and functioning of the entire campus community. Both are necessary for the free flow of ideas that is at the core of our mission. Our role as University staff is to balance those priorities in a way that respects and supports the rights of all on campus.

A few years ago, the University designated staff to empower and protect students’ rights to free speech and peaceful protest, while also safeguarding the rights of all faculty, students, staff, and visitors on campus. Staff are also resources for individual students and student groups, advising on University policies for organizing campus protests.  Last spring, when a group of students concerned about the handling of sexual misconduct issues held a protest outside of Nassau Hall, staff were there to support students’ free speech rights while also ensuring the safety of the campus community and the continued functioning of University operations.

As we begin another academic year at Princeton, I ask students to consider what kind of community we want to be. I hope the answer is a community where questions can be asked — either of the University or each other — in spirit of a respectful discourse. On Sept. 25, the Undergraduate Student Government and the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students will hold their annual social action lunch to bring together students and staff to discuss social activism, free expression, and campus protest policies. I invite students to attend the conversation around these important topics and to consider how we can all help make Princeton a place where free expression and civil discourse is supported.

W. Rochelle Calhoun is the Vice President for Campus Life at the University.