Katelynn Singleton, Campus Carrier deputy news editor
Mary Grace von Thron, Campus Carrier news editor
The Policies Related to Speech and Behavior Committee, a subcommittee of the Culture of Belonging presidential initiative, has been tasked with reviewing Berry’s current policies regarding free speech, hate speech and responses to incidents of bias. The committee will then make recommendations for changes to those policies, whether it’s changing the language used or making a new addition to the policies.
Michael Bailey, an associate professor of political science and international affairs, as well as a member of the committee, says that the overall goal of the committee is to integrate freedom of expression and encourage a safe and inclusive community.
“We value our commitment to exploration and freedom of thought; at the same time, we want to have a community that is inclusive. We want to be truly equal; everyone comes to the table in a spirit of equality,” said Bailey.
When coming up with a new policy, the committee looked at peer schools, or schools that are similar to Berry in size, scope and mission, to see what policies they had in place. They also looked at schools within the same athletic conference as Berry. Meredith Johnson, the Assistant Dean of Students, said that several schools have overarching statements regarding diversity and many have commonalities regarding anti-harassment discrimination and freedom of speech. Many schools directly address social media behaviors for members of their community. Lindsay Norman, the dean of residence life, said that when reviewing these policies, the policy of Millsaps College in Mississippi seemed to be one that was very strong, and members of the committee seemed to like. Some details of the Millsaps policy are enumerated below
The committee came together to discuss components of other policies that they liked and worked on adapting them to fit the Berry community. In addition to studying other policies, Bailey says they also looked at advocacy groups in favor of free speech and the principles that have been set by those groups. They created a draft and have currently sent it out to several different groups on campus to gain feedback regarding the policy. The draft will have to go through several vetting processes within broader communities on campus before it is sent to President Steve Briggs, who ultimately has the final decision to implement the policy. Norman hopes to have the policy finalized by May 2021.
“Right now, we’re just getting feedback, and we’ll bring that back next week to see what our community said about it,” Norman said.
The next step for the committee is looking at and developing the process of when a bias-related incident is reported and how that is handled. Johnson said that at the last committee meeting, the currently drafted policy was tested with scenarios to see how it would allow for Berry to respond to incidents. The committee wants to help Berry remain true to its values and be free from discrimination, harassment, intimidation and threats of violence in all aspects, but especially with regard to people’s identities.
“Even if we all agree on some very central ideas of expectations for our community, there is definitely still disagreement about when the college responds, and in what ways,” Johnson said.
Bailey says that this policy will likely have to been continuously examined over time, as our perceptions of speech adapt in future years.
Next week, the Carrier will continue this series on speech-related policies at Berry with a feature on opinions of Berry community members. To participate, follow along with the Carrier’s social media, and look for the story in the Apr. 8 issue.
The Policies Related to Speech and Behavior Subcommittee spent a significant amount of time looking at the policies, actions and changes that other colleges and universities have put into place before beginning to develop policies specific to Berry. The graphics below describe the policies of six of Berry’s peer colleges and universities; Rhodes College, Sewanee University of the South, Birmingham-Southern College, Centre College, Oglethorpe University and Millsaps College. Each of these institutions has specific policies related to ideas of freedom of expression, and issues related to hate speech, that Berry’s subcommittee is working to more clearly develop.