This post is a re-blog of this post on the NASPA Lead Initiative Blog, shared with permission. You’ll find the original post here.
Author: Michael L. Sanseviro, Ph.D., Associate Vice President for Student Affairs & Dean of Students, Kennesaw State University (Ga.)
From the moment we learned about IUPUI’s famed Democracy Plaza, my colleagues and I pined for the day when we could introduce an equally amazing space at our institution. Despite years of posting temporary Democracy Walls on butcher paper with markers during our annual Constitution Week activities, the dream of a permanent installation evaded us. After the ADP/CLDE conference in Indianapolis this past June, our team returned invigorated and determined to bring this dream finally to fruition. A recently completed library renovation and relocation of the library main entrance provided a fortuitous facility refuge alongside the previous entry breezeway – an ideal location for chalkboards! A quick visit to facility surplus furnished a treasure trove of free retired chalkboards begging for reincarnation. The library staff and academic affairs colleagues were immediately on board, facility staff volunteered to delivery and install the boards, and more institutional partners than I can name here contributed in myriad ways to ensuring the necessary approvals and support from students, administrators, faculty, staff, alumni, and community partners. KSU is a multi-campus institution, and to ensure equal access for all students, comparable spaces were identified for each campus.
As one might expect, especially on the heels of a contentious national election, there were many questions and concerns. Most importantly, how do we honor the free expression that is paramount when creating this space yet balance that with the desired safe space we strive to create for all members of our community? Borrowing from the guidelines established by IUPUI, and working with a diverse team from across the institution and community, we established the following statement and guidelines:
The purpose of a Democracy Wall is to provide an outlet for discussing civic issues, increasing communication across diverse audiences, encouraging thoughtful reflection, and increasing participation in the democratic process. Through this Democracy Wall we actively demonstrate our democratic values, heighten awareness, and encourage all voices to be heard. The Democracy Wall is also a space to encourage idea-generation for proactive change – on campus, in the local community, and across the globe.
Democracy Wall Ground Rules:
- The most important rule – the “spirit of fair play” prevails. All voices are welcome.
- Choose words that convey meaning and reflect our educational dignity, i.e., obscenity, cursing, and other indecencies do not serve the purpose of this wall nor the spirit of The Owl Creed*.
- Civic discourse is respectful in disagreement. We can agree or disagree with arguments and issues without attacking individuals, i.e., name calling or personal attacks do not serve the purpose of this wall.
- Do not alter or obscure what others have written, but add your voice to the conversation. Feel free to pose your own questions as well as comments.
- Free speech is not always pleasant speech, but cannot be illegal speech. The Supreme Court has provided guidance on limitations, such as direct threats, incitement, false statements of fact, obscenity, fighting words, etc. If you believe anything posted on the wall is illegal speech, notify the Dean of Students Office immediately at 470-578-6310 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Democracy Wall and these guidelines are based on the Democracy Plaza created on the Indianapolis campus of IUPUI over a decade ago, which has stood as a national model for democratic engagement and civic dialogue. Kennesaw State University will administer compliance with the law based on consultation with KSU Legal Affairs and KSU Public Safety, and compliance with university codes of conduct based on consultation with Student Conduct and Academic Integrity. Periodically the boards will be cleaned to allow for a fresh round of conversations.
* The Owl Creed is an aspirational statement that was developed by the KSU Student Human Relations Task Force in 1998 and reads: “The community of Kennesaw State University is steadfast in its commitment to academic excellence and personal integrity. Members of the Kennesaw State University community are obligated to a practice of civilized behavior. Choosing to become a member of this community proclaims the acceptance of KSU’s Creed as suggested by the following ideals.
I WILL ALWAYS STRIVE FOR PERSONAL AND ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE.
I WILL ALWAYS RESPECT THE RIGHTS, FEELINGS AND PROPERTY OF OTHERS.
I WILL ALWAYS ENCOURAGE UNITY BY APPRECIATING THE DIFFERENCES IN PEOPLE AND THEIR IDEAS.
I WILL ALWAYS REMAIN FAITHFUL TO THE IDEAS SUGGESTED AND DETER ANY BEHAVIOR THAT THREATENS THE RIGHTS OF ANY KSU MEMBER.
I WILL ALWAYS STRIVE TO CREATE AN ATMOSPHERE WHERE IDEALS WILL DEVELOP AN ACADEMIC AND SOCIAL COMMUNITY THAT IS CIVILIZED, REWARDING AND DYNAMIC AT KENNESAW STATE UNIVERSITY.