ACPA – College Student Educators International is concerned by the increasing restrictions being placed on campus free speech and expression. This concern is not new with the ongoing efforts taken in different U.S. states to limit the discussion of diversity, equity and inclusion topics but has taken additional urgency in light of the ongoing wars and conflicts involving Israel, Hamas, Palestine, and Gaza.

As this academic term is concluding as well as the 2023 calendar year, we wanted to send this message of both challenge and support to our members as we prepare ourselves for the start of the new year and a return back to campus environments.

As an Association, we advocate for equitable and inclusive environments; central to our core values is the open exchange of ideas in a context of mutual respect, reciprocity, and care.  We point to the ACPA Position on Freedom of Speech. It is through this lens that we express our concerns about what we are witnessing—and what students, faculty, and administrators are experiencing—in regard to campus free speech and expression. 

We are deeply concerned by a troubling pattern of increased restrictions and the implications that it will have on our communities. Higher education has been a place where freedom of speech, thought, and expression has been valued both inside and outside of the classroom setting. 

To be clear, we believe freedom of speech and expression is not a free pass toward using hate speech and language that demonizes an individual’s humanity. We expect and hope that all institutions have policies in their codes of conduct that govern such behavior. 

We are disappointed that members of the U.S. House of Representatives failed to understand what the college Presidents reiterated about the importance of campus free speech and expression as well as condemn harmful and threatening rhetoric and hate speech. Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other -isms have no place within our institutions. 

As a community of higher education educators, we must do better in engaging with our communities of students, faculty, and staff and expressing the importance and value of campus free speech and expression, as well as stress the importance of holding each other accountable for those actions that cause or threaten harm. We need to be prepared to engage in civil discourse and to engage across differences.  We all need to understand the limits of free speech and expression. 

At the same time, we must include in our work the responsibility for educating ourselves first and then providing opportunity for students, faculty, and staff to engage in ongoing learning about the issues affecting society today. This certainly includes the current and ongoing conflict between Israel, Hamas, Palestine, and Gaza. We must make a concerted effort to educate our communities about the historical context of the Israel/Palestine conflict. It is lack of education and knowledge that gives rise to ignorance, hatred, and polarization.

Higher education institutions and outside organizations should not dictate the types of individual opinions that members of their communities should have. Just because one disagrees with an opinion, or a subject matter, that does not make that opinion invalid or that subject matter.  Such actions have no place within higher education. Rather than silencing dissenting voices and opinions, we need to be raising awareness.

In summary, we encourage higher education leaders and student affairs administrators to exhibit clarity, transparency, and strong leadership when addressing campus free speech and expression, especially in discussions related to Israel and Palestine. It is essential to create an environment that fosters open dialogue, respect for diverse perspectives, and a commitment to understanding the complexities of this issue while upholding principles of free speech. 

As we enter the winter break, ACPA will continue to monitor the landscape and engage with our higher education partner association to advocate for the continued protections of campus free speech and expression.