Constructive dialogue and valuing diversity

(The message below was sent via email Oct. 4 to students at all WSU campuses.)

Over the last year, on campuses around the U.S., free speech has been at the center of an amazing number of discussions and actions. These types of activities form the bedrock of academic life—observation, analysis, critique, and debate.

There is so much richness in the dialogue that is occurring: conversations about safe spaces and free speech, debates about the appropriate ways to protest and dissent. It’s a great time to be part of the WSU community, engaging with these issues together.

Our core values

We also recognize that these conversations carry the power to include or exclude, and that they can easily become contentious, painful, and volatile. Knowing that, it’s important to remind ourselves that Washington State University cherishes freedom of expression as a core value:

“We are committed to being a community that protects the free exchange of ideas while encouraging dialog that is constructive and civil.”

WSU also holds diversity and global citizenship as a core value:

“We embrace a worldview that recognizes and values the importance of domestic and global diversity, global interdependence, and sustainability.”

Public universities are uniquely suited to be laboratories for free speech, a place where we can practice the skills needed in civic engagement. WSU creates space for ideas to be expressed, explored, considered, examined, critiqued, and supported. And the University also creates space for people to be treated with respect and care, encouraged to thrive and to learn in community. Our university belongs to all of us, and we all are valued members of the Cougar Nation.

These are not mutually exclusive goals at all. They are embedded in the practice of dialogue: listening with openness, questioning to understand, engaging in good faith efforts to reach clarity, if not agreement.

Civil ways to disagree

These conversations can be hard. There are times when other people express ideas we find repugnant and painful, or even just foolish. Balancing someone’s right to express a personal belief with our own right to disagree requires some care. There are many ways to offer your perspective. A few of them include:

  • Use your First Amendment rights to put together a demonstration, forum, debate, or protest. (Students were provided a link to their campus’ student affairs office that can help them plan a campus activity).
  • Find your voice through social media, student government and organizations, civic engagement, and the press—there are many options.
  • Engage in those challenging conversations and express your values and beliefs, whether it’s one-on-one, in a classroom, on the mall, or at a party.

Don’t forget to care for yourself when conversations get intense. Consider how much energy you want to put into a discussion, and what you—and the people you’re engaged with—are getting out of it. Be involved in ways that reflect your values, and what matters to you. Use the resources around you, including our faculty, advisors, and staff in any of the offices that serve students, for support and advice.

As you talk with the people around you, whether you agree or disagree, we hope you will do so with rigor, attention, respect, and kindness. You likely will never again have such a great opportunity to learn from so many different people, representing a wide range of perspectives and experiences. Don’t let a moment of the opportunity go to waste!

Kirk Schulz

Dan Bernardo
Provost and Executive Vice President

Melynda Huskey
Interim Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students