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Office of the President

September 17, 2020 - Our Unwavering Commitment to Free Speech and Respectful Dialogue

To: Campus Community
From: President Gayle Hutchinson

Election season can be both an exciting and challenging time. In the coming weeks, political rhetoric and varying viewpoints will be expressed more regularly and freely within our campus community and beyond. Inevitably, people may feel under attack for their identities and beliefs, and none of us will be unaffected by these challenges.

As an intellectual community, we understand the importance of meaningful dialogue to help us wrestle with issues and resolve challenges, and having these conversations in ways that are respectful and build community.

Chico State is an ardent supporter of the First Amendment, which protects even free speech that many find hateful and abhorrent and may be in conflict with our community values. All too often today, there are people who use free speech in hurtful ways. Taking a cue from history, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wisely stated that the response to falsehoods or ill-conceived ideas is not censorship, but rather “to avert the evil by the processes of education.” He asserted “the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

With that in mind, I call upon our Wildcat family to support and look out for marginalized communities whose very existence is often challenged in the name of "policy debate" or "free speech." While there is a distinction between hate crimes, which are criminal offenses, and hateful acts and language, which are constitutionally protected, those acts are no less offensive and harmful. We must ourselves exercise free speech to help heal the divides that exist in our nation.

Additionally, it's important to recognize when it is meaningful to engage in discussion and when it is better to direct our passions elsewhere. Remember, one of our most powerful tools for driving change is wielded at the ballot box. I encourage you to register to vote or update your address (especially if you moved during the pandemic). You can also help Chico State win the California University and College Ballot Bowl as part of the California Students Vote Project. The California Secretary of State will give awards to the campuses with the most registered voters, and so far Chico State has been a strong contender! 

Continue to educate yourself on the important issues before us, like social injustice, a changing climate that threatens our global society, equal access to health care, affordable housing, and so much more. Develop your own opinions, and then cast your votes and encourage others to do the same.

We know the election—and the conversations that will come before and after it—may at times be a distraction from your studies or your work. In an era where civil discourse is sometimes abandoned in pursuit of individual passion, it is vital that we lean on one another for strength and cultivate our inner resilience. Thank you for doing your part as an engaged member of our community.