In an Aug. 24 email sent to undergraduate students at the University of Connecticut’s Storrs campus, several UConn administrators stated the university’s commitment to the creation of an environment that is respectful and safe in which free expression can take place.
The administrators also welcomed students to the 2017-18 academic year in the email.
Students received the message on behalf of Eleanor J.B. Daugherty, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students in the division of student affairs, and Joelle Murchison, Associate Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer in the office for diversity and inclusion.
“Over the course of the past several months, we have observed the tragedy that results when moments of free expression deteriorate into hate [-] filled violence. At UConn we aspire to provide a welcoming environment where every voice and every perspective is heard,” the email said.
The email said that the articulation of different perspectives, when carried out in a conscientious manner, is a vital part of a well-rounded college education.
“As a university community, we must embrace the expression of varied opinions while also insisting that expression occur in an environment of mutual respect,” the email said. “The exchange of ideas that occurs throughout our community creates a spirit of dialogue that is not only welcome, but absolutely necessary on university campuses in order to offer the most engaging and vibrant educational experience.”
According to the email, UConn created a bias response protocol in January 2015 to help students who encounter a bias-related incident.
“While free expression is important in having productive dialogue, the [u]niversity acts when harm occurs to members of our community,” the email said. “In January of 2015, the [u]niversity developed its [b]ias [r]esponse [p]rotocol to support students who experience an incident that either is or appears to be bias-related. Such incidents are addressed through [t]he [s]tudent [c]ode, UConn Police or restorative conversations within the impacted community.”
The email said that students’ safety at campus events is a top priority for the university.
“UConn will not allow the immediate safety of our students to be jeopardized,” the email said. “Our current policies and safety protocols are designed to work with student leaders in planning programs that ensure both the value of free speech and the safety of our campus.”
The email also referenced university president Susan Herbst’s Aug. 16 email to the UConn community, sent in response to the violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12, when white nationalists protesting the city’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee and counter-demonstrators skirmished.
In the Aug. 16 email, Herbst condemned white supremacy and described it as a “noxious philosophy.” Herbst also condemned fascism and racism and described them as “despicable ideologies.”
Herbst stated in the Aug. 16 email that UConn is dedicated to the promotion of free expression.
“Let me be very clear: as a university, we are committed to fearless intellectual debate and to the free speech that makes it possible,” Herbst said in the Aug. 16 email. “Those commitments are essential to another elemental aspect of our identity, which is our determination to create an intellectual community composed of dignity, compassion  and respect, which constitute the foundation of a free society.”
Herbst also affirmed in the Aug. 16 email the university’s pledge to uphold certain values, such as democracy and civil discourse.
“The University of Connecticut will never yield to the poisonous ideas and attitudes we saw [on Aug. 12], and which are attempting to gain strength throughout our country,” Herbst said in the Aug. 16 email. “It is my commitment–it is my promise–that this will always remain a university that stands firmly for the virtues of democracy, equality, civil discourse  and human rights.”
Alexandra Retter is staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.