A letter concerning the free exchange of ideas and appropriate student response to controversy was sent this week to about 5,700 students who live in MU’s residence halls.
The letter was sent in part to address the harassment experienced by a female student who lives in Johnston Hall. The student, who was not identified, told the Residential Life Department that posters on her dorm room door supporting abortion rights had been vandalized and that related, inappropriate messages were left on the door’s message board.
“The letter doesn’t shed a lot of new light,” said Frankie Minor, residential life director. “It’s just a reminder.”
The letter, written by Minor and other residential life staff, reminds students that they will encounter controversial ideas during college, that MU supports the free exchange of ideas regardless of controversy and that students are expected to respond to such controversy in accordance with the university’s core values: respect, responsibility, discovery and excellence.
“We’ve had this (the letter) in our back pocket over two years,” Minor said. “But it doesn’t do us any good in our back pocket.”
He said he originally drafted the letter after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“We feared possible backlash against students who are or were thought to be Middle Eastern or Muslim,” Minor said.
But the letter was never sent out because Minor did not think student behavior warranted it. The letter was revised in the spring when the United States invaded Iraq. Again, the letter was not released, because student response stayed with the bounds of propriety.
Last week, though, Minor revised his letter again in preparation for this week’s anti-abortion rights opponents’ display sponsored by Mizzou Justice for All: Students for Bio-Ethical Equality. The display, which features large photos of aborted fetuses and human embryos, ended Wednesday.
“The letter was redrafted to be generic to all controversial topics,” Minor said. “It indicates good, general operating guidelines for students when discussing or debating these issues.”
Minor said two students responded to the mass e-mail — one who was upset that MU allowed the display and another who thought the e-mail discouraged protest of the exhibit. Minor said he responded to each, saying MU allowed the exhibit because it supports the freedom of expression. He went on to say that students are encouraged to express their opinions as long as it is done in a form appropriate to “a community of scholars.”
Minor said that, in the future, the e-mail may be distributed at the beginning of each school year and as a reminder when controversial issues arise.