Context for Free Speech

If you have spent time at Grand Valley, you may have noticed, on occasions, people gathered to express their ideas and opinions on a myriad of issues. GVSU is a community of scholars. Like most universities, our basic purposes are to advance, to disseminate, and to apply knowledge. An essential condition for achieving these purposes is freedom of expression and communication. Without this freedom, effective sifting and testing of ideas ceases, and teaching and learning are diminished.

Sometimes individuals or groups express ideas that offend others in the GVSU community. The question has been asked, why do we let this happen on our campus? Grand Valley is a public university, and as such it is obligated to uphold the tenets of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects free speech. In addition, as a community, we believe a basic condition for achieving a liberal education includes freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas through open communication. To that end, the university has developed policies and procedures to help distinguish protected speech from unacceptable behaviors.

Lawful, non-disruptive public demonstrations are permitted at Grand Valley and are protected by the First Amendment, without regard for the point of view being expressed. Under the First Amendment, we cannot restrict these demonstrations based upon content.  Under civil and criminal law, as well as university policies, an individual or group may not: deny free expression to others who are engaged in peaceful discourse or dissent, deny any person's freedom of movement on university property, obstruct ingress and/or egress with respect to buildings or public areas, endanger or threaten to endanger any person on university property, or otherwise disrupt the ability of any person to participate and enjoy the benefits of campus life.

While GVSU safeguards individuals’ constitutional rights and protected speech, we are also committed to inclusion and equity. The way that people are treated at Grand Valley matters. We want everyone to be treated with dignity and respect and take responsibility for their words and actions.

Anytime anyone in the Grand Valley community feels belittled, disrespected, or isolated because of who they are, the entire university community is diminished.  Bias incidents are directed toward an individual or group because of their real or perceived race, color, national origin, sexual orientation, sex/gender, gender identity, gender expression, political affiliation, religion, familial status, marital status, disability, age, height, weight, or veteran status.

While these acts do not necessarily rise to the level of a violation of the student code, university policy or the law, they may contribute to creating an unsafe, negative or unwelcome environment. 

Grand Valley has developed the bias incident reporting process to help us identify incidents that have an adverse impact on the inclusive learning environment on campus and to provide avenues for providing individual support, educational dialogue and constructive responses to address bias incidents.  In cases where it is determined that harassment has occurred, the university’s Anti-Harassment Policy can be utilized. Grand Valley is an exciting academic community where ideas are openly and rigorously shared and debated.  While we may not agree or even like each other always, the university strives to be a place where people share thoughts freely, where people learn from each other, and where mutual respect and caring for one another is evident even when we must agree to disagree because of differences in thinking – indeed, this makes Grand Valley a “special” place for learning.



Page last modified August 28, 2017