Student Services Division

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 cease, and teaching and learning are diminished.

Sometimes individuals or groups express ideas that upset 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 that is obligated to uphold the tenants of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, 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, peaceful public demonstrations are permitted at Grand Valley and are protected by law, without regard for the point of view being expressed. 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 committed to inclusion and equity too. The way that people are treated at Grand Valley matters since respect, courtesy, and civility are important values at the university. Anytime someone in the GVSU community feels belittled, disrespected, threatened, or unsafe because of negative bias about whom they are, the entire university community is adversely impacted. Bias incidents should be reported as set forth in the Student Code Appendix G found at so that members of the university community can engage in educational dialogue and seek constructive responses to address incidents including disciplinary action if appropriate. Additionally, acts of harassment and discrimination step beyond everyone’s constitutional rights and are prohibited at Grand Valley and should be reported as outlined in the Anti-Harassment Policy found at under Policies and Procedures.

Grand Valley is an exciting academic community where ideas are shared, argued, and dissected rigorously. 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.

H. Bart Merkle
Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students

Page last modified September 10, 2012