Activity over the last few months has brought into sharp focus the unwavering commitment of the University community to social justice and human rights for all. Students, staff and faculty have rallied to support the elected president of the University student body, who has been viciously targeted by an individual because of his sexual orientation.
The reaction by the University community has been exactly what we would expect from the “leaders and best”: overwhelmingly supportive of Chris Armstrong, president of the Michigan Student Assembly.
Likewise, Armstrong and his fellow MSA members have reacted to this unwanted attention by holding their heads high, ignoring the blogger’s taunts and carrying on with their ambitious MSA agenda for the coming year. We commend them for their responsible approach. An important value of this campus is the free flow of ideas and opinions. As a community of scholars we simultaneously preserve and create knowledge.
We ask difficult questions, challenge each others’ best thinking, sometimes change our minds and other times agree to respectfully disagree. While living and working together we also strive to create a campus environment where civility, respect and inclusivity are of paramount importance. This is a place where individuals’ rights to have their personal identities respected and understood is as sacred as other constitutionally protected ideals.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. noted in 1963, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality… Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Freedom of speech and expression do not include behaviors that target, harass, threaten or defame others. As a campus community we must continue to “Stand Up, Step In and Speak Out” against the repeated vitriolic attacks on any one of us. Hateful speech can only be effectively countered by different speech.
We applaud those individuals and student organizations – on our campus and elsewhere – that have taken the opportunity to counter hateful speech with different speech and express support for Chris. A unified show of support demonstrating that acts of bigotry cannot take root here is an important part of our community response.
We stand united to support all members of the University community, in many different ways, seen and unseen. As the University’s elected Board of Regents said so clearly at its Sept. 16 meeting, “When one member of our community is targeted, we are all attacked.”
E. Royster Harper is the Vice President for Student Affairs. Laura Blake Jones is the Associate Vice President and Dean of Students.