XU launches speech initiative

By trevor Tiemeyer, Staff Writer

University officials have launched a new committee, the Ignatian Campus Speech Initiative, which aims to create a guideline of principles and best practices for speech on campus. 

Take It On Director Dr. Mack Mariani, who is one of the faculty members involved with the initiative, shared his view on its purpose and value. 

“Not a week goes by where there is not a controversy somewhere in America about speech on a college campus,” Mariani said. 

He noted that the initiative is meant to inspire “conversations about what are the limits of speech, what are the challenges to navigate difficult and controversial speech.”

The initiative was introduced by Dr. Colleen Hanycz, president, and Provost and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Rachel Chrastil. 

According to Mariani, the aim of the initiative is to bring together staff and faculty in an attempt “to look at those documents we have already (the faculty handbook and Xavier Mission Statement), to look at some of the other documents that are out there from places like St. Louis University or Georgetown University that have already articulated their principles of speech and to come up with what does that look like at Xavier University.”

The initiative is divided into four committees: Principles, Best Practices, Protocols/Processes and the Communication Committees. 

The Principles Committee is meant to develop a university-wide statement of principles in relation to speech on campus. The chair of this committee is Dr. Bill Madges, Beckman Chair of the Theology Department. 

Best Practices and Protocols is co-chaired by Rev. Abby King-Kaiser, director of the Center for Faith and Justice, and Dr. Richard Polt, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. 

This committee is designed to find out what it means to practice speech at Xavier. Additionally, they seek to develop resources and best practices to faculty, staff and students about how to engage in productive and effective dialogue. 

The Best Practices committee also hopes to develop understanding regarding controversial speech and how to respond to it. 

The Protocols and Processes committee is reviewing university protocols for campus events and speakers. They are also reviewing sections of the student handbook. 

This committee is chaired by Leah Busam, senior director for Student Affairs, and Molly Dugan, director of Student Integrity. 

Finally, the Communication Committee is chaired by Government Relations Director Sean Comer. The role of the Communication Committee is to find ways to communicate these principles to students, faculty and staff as well as to the greater Xavier community. Comer’s committee also seeks to discover conscious response methods for challenging speech and to create responses that align well with established practices.

In addition to developing resources for speech internally on campus, the Communication Committee is tasked with developing resources for those on campus to engage with external audiences. 

Mariani noted that the program’s mission is to continue inviting a diverse set of speakers to campus, but in a manner that befits a professional and educational institution. 

“We want Xavier to be a place where there is robust discussion about challenging issues that is done in a way that is distinctly Xavier, that reflects who we are,” Mariani said.

Mariani believes that the initiative “requires us to trust one another and to build a framework where people feel free to engage difficult issues… It also requires us to be thoughtful about how we prepare people to have those conversations well and to provide support that people need.”

To Mariani, the end goal of this new initiative is “to make sure this place lives up to its mission, which is to be a place that is inclusive and supportive and committed to exploring these things together.”