Freedom of Expression and Civil Discourse Statement
Cornell College is an institution of higher education that aspires to develop lifelong learners and engaged citizens. Consistent with that mission, we strongly endorse freedom of speech, as articulated in the First Amendment, as an inherent right of individuals to express themselves. Expression and personal identity are inextricably intertwined. Further, while freedom of speech and expression are accorded constitutional protection in our civic life, the value of free expression must be given even more rigorous affirmation in an intellectual community that prizes liberal education, academic freedom, and critical thinking.
As a small, residential community of persons with diverse identities and backgrounds, Cornell is also committed to maintaining an inclusive campus climate and emphasizes the importance of communication and cooperation between individuals who hold different perspectives, opinions, and identities. Civil discourse refers to the inherent responsibility of individuals to engage respectfully with the intent to foster understanding. In a community like ours, civil discourse is highly valued, as it guides the approach all individuals should take in order to achieve an inclusive campus.
Therefore, we expect that community members, when engaging in civil discourse, will approach each other with:
- The intention to understand—The process of civil discourse places responsibility on both the speaker and the listener to be willing to learn, acknowledging that neither one has all of the answers. It can be messy, involves risk, and is ultimately rewarding. Active listening and asking thoughtful questions are key components.
- Respect for the inherent dignity and worth of every person—Civil discourse means that we recognize that all persons, regardless of differences and disagreements, have inherent dignity, worth, and their own unalienable right to freely express themselves.
- Commitment to learning and appreciation for critical thinking—Freedom of speech is fundamental for learning, critical inquiry, and growth as an individual and as a community. Civil discourse involves thinking critically about all ideas, opinions, and identities one encounters. The invitation to think critically is meaningless unless diversity of opinion and perspective is not only respected but actively sought out.
- Empathy—A critical component of civil discourse is empathy. In practicing empathy, each individual involved attempts to understand the feelings, experiences, and perspectives of another.
[This statement supersedes the 2006 Faculty Resolution on Free Speech and Expression.]