Category: Messages to Students, Messages to the Community

Title: Embodying Civility, Speech and Free Expression

Dear Hoyas,

I hope you are enjoying the semester and the hint of fall that is in the air. As the term progresses, I am reminded of something that matters to all of us: the role of speech and expression on a university campus.

In any community, but most especially our own Georgetown community that is inspired and nurtured by our Catholic and Jesuit values, it is essential that we cherish and understand the responsibility we all have – staff, faculty, and students – to preserve and protect speech and expression.  I firmly believe that the ability to freely express our thoughts, accept new ideas, allow for failure, and, most importantly, discover something new, is a critical part of our formation.

Our Speech and Expression Policy guides our efforts to ensure the thoughtful exchange of ideas and information and posits that the remedy for extreme or offensive ideas is not less speech, but more speech. Our policy prohibits obstructing or otherwise interfering with the freedom of others to express their views.

Freedom of expression takes many forms: from the views you espouse in classrooms, to the flyers posted in community spaces, statements and images posted online and in social media, to the guests who are invited to speak on campus. If you have questions about guidelines, first consult the policy.

It is important that Georgetown is a space that welcomes disagreement. Dissent is recognized as an important aspect of debate, discussion and learning. Expressing dissent in various formats is encouraged, but time, place and manner restrictions exist to limit disruption to regular university business.

It is, perhaps, the greatest of our values to see ourselves within the greater good that we serve. We are a community that cares for others. Words can harm how our community experiences that care. As members of a caring community, we are called upon to carry an awareness of how our words and actions can impact our colleagues, classmates, and neighbors .

Yes, there are policies that we have and will always uphold. Georgetown is committed to free speech, whether in the classroom, in other spaces on campus and online even when that speech may be controversial or objectionable, but we do not tolerate harassment or bullying in violation of university policies. If you observe an incident you believe to be motivated by bias or hate, you should file a report through the online Bias-Related Incident Reporting Form. The University prohibits expression that violates the law, falsely defames a specific individual, constitutes a genuine threat, violates the University’s Harassment Policy, or unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests.

We will all encounter, during our time at Georgetown and beyond, actions that do not violate policy and cannot be resolved through student conduct or state and federal law. Speech will, at times, hurt. I call upon all of us to embrace our commitment to care for others and apply that to the responsibility we all carry to protect the free expression of ideas , invite dissent, seek to heal, and understand when and if harm occurs. That is, perhaps, the greatest discovery found within the responsibility and power given to us through free and open inquiry, deliberation and debate in all matters. Let us all cherish and steward these roles effectively.

This year, I will be asking the Speech and Expression Committee to advise me as part of our ongoing work to understand the complexity of these issues at Georgetown.  If you are interested in joining this work either as a member of the Committee or more informally, I encourage you to write to me and share more about your interest in this work.

I wish you many rich conversations in the weeks ahead.


Eleanor JB Daugherty, Ed.D.|
Vice President for Student Affairs