Last Sunday evening a group of students decided to make a statement in favor of freedom of speech and in opposition to censorship through intimidation. This statement took the form of chalk drawings on campus walkways depicting the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
We want to add our voices to those who have expressed their disappointment in this action. We believe that freedom of speech is an important value, especially in an academic community. Potential threats to free speech should be vigorously opposed. At the same time, the Northwestern community’s values include civility, inclusion and respect for others, even those with whom we disagree. Even though our values may conflict on occasion, there is no place on our campus for actions that disparage the religious beliefs or practices of others.
In a large and diverse university community, people will vigorously disagree about many important issues. Critical thinking and free inquiry are central to academic life. We should expect people to articulate their differing ideas with passion and conviction. What cannot be accepted is the public disrespect and derision of those with whom one disagrees. Freedom speech is certainly necessary for the advancement of knowledge and understanding. Responsible speech is equally imperative.
We would encourage all members of the Northwestern community to discuss these issues in a positive and constructive manner. Make an effort to be informed about freedom of speech and about other religious traditions. Talk to your friends about their thoughts and feelings. Let’s work together to make Northwestern a place that is welcoming to all persons.
Vice President for Student Affairs
Dean of Students