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A Message from the President:Lessons in Free Speech and Inclusiveness

November 10, 2017

To the UW community:

A couple of developments in the past week have highlighted the issues of free speech and inclusiveness on our campus, and I feel a need to give you my perspective as UW’s president on these developments.

First, I am proud of the behavior of our students during the appearance of conservative commentator Dennis Prager at the College of Education Building auditorium last night. Both those students who supported and protested his visit to campus conducted themselves in the manner I expected, showing respect for other perspectives while peacefully expressing their own views. I hope that spirit will be maintained in discussions that take place in social media and other digital forums as well.

As I said in my regular Monday message to campus, the principles of free speech and campus inclusiveness should not be mutually exclusive; that is, they should not conflict with, but rather reinforce each other. Inclusiveness is about widening the circle of voices, including more perspectives from different backgrounds, all free to speak, free to disagree, free to discuss and debate. A premise of higher education is the robust exchange of ideas, balanced with values of respect and inclusion.

At the same time, we must acknowledge that the First Amendment allows expression that is so reprehensible that it must be answered. Such is the case with some fliers that have appeared on campus this week, fliers denying the Holocaust that took place before and during World War II. It’s no coincidence that these fliers have appeared during Holocaust Remembrance Week, sponsored by the recognized student organization UW Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. The foundation strives to educate about Jewish culture and provide Jewish students with religious connection in Laramie.

While the content of the fliers is protected speech, it is simply false. The murder of 6 million Jewish and 5 million other victims by the Nazi regime is fact, and outrageously incorrect information such as that contained in the fliers has been used for decades by those who hold anti-Semitic views to harass the Jewish community. We are committed to an environment at UW where people from all backgrounds feel safe and welcome, and these fliers run contrary to that commitment. While the fliers themselves are protected by the Constitution, their placement violates city ordinances for littering and posting of handbills. Our campus police department is investigating. We strongly denounce discriminatory behaviors and actions in the UW campus community.

For those who want to hear the real story of the Holocaust, I encourage you to attend the presentation by Holocaust survivor Estelle Nadel today at 4 p.m. in the Wyoming Union Ballroom. In the final event of Holocaust Remembrance Week at UW, she will share her story of struggle and survival as a child in hiding in Nazi-occupied Poland.

To honor those who have fought for our freedoms and against regimes such as the one that perpetrated the Holocaust, I draw your attention to the Veterans Day events taking place on campus today. Volunteers organized by our Veterans Services Center are reading the names of military members who died serving their country from 8 a.m. to about 6:50 p.m. in Simpson Plaza, with a moment of silence at noon. The playing of taps and retiring of the colors follow the final reading of names.

Finally, I invite anyone with concerns about whether our campus community is as inclusive as it should be to contact our new chief diversity officer, Dr. Emily Monago. She has been meeting with people across campus in her efforts to lead the development of a diversity plan for UW, establishing new goals and priories that build on the rich history and culture of the UW community. Learn more about her work, and how to contact her, by clicking here.

I wish you all an enjoyable and safe weekend.

Sincerely,

Laurie Nichols, President


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