letting them know what’s permissible and what’s
not, and what’s advisable and what’s not and preparing them for the change in the atmosphere on
our campuses right now,” Moore says.
A PREEMPTIVE STRIKE
That kind of early education can prevent situations
from escalating and can protect campuses.
A good place for colleges and districts to start
is to regularly assess free speech-related policies.
Be aware of where the potential issues might be,
and make sure that every rule and restriction in
place—particularly in terms of creating “free speech
zones”—is necessary and supported by substantial
interests, Ormond advises.
“For example, if you’re requiring notice to use
an area of campus for free speech, ask yourself why
are you doing this?” Ormond says. “If you’re setting a
specific number of days for advance notice, why?”
All policy requirements should be “justifiable and
defensible,” Ormond says.
But policies need to be followed with training.
“If there’s no training for staff to know what
the rules are and how they’re implemented, it can
result in violations and breed allegations about selective enforcement,” Ormond says.
Establishing a crisis communications plan is
essential, too, says Jennie McCue, interim director
of marketing and communications for the South
Orange County Community College District.
“This is helpful even in small-scale incidents,”
McCue says. She knows this first-hand, as she was
the director of marketing and communications at
Saddleback College when the faculty member was
filmed taking down a student group’s posters.
Communication and collaboration with both
the on-campus and off-campus community are
vital, as well. When campus administration works
with student groups and visitor organizations,
activities have a better chance for success.
AFTER AN INCIDENT
“Often times, if a problem is going to arise, it’s because
things are happening in real-time without campus
administration having prior awareness of the activity
or event,” Ormond says.
And when those problems do arise, “first and
foremost, take a breath,” Ormond advises. At times,
individuals or groups may be looking to provoke or
test the boundaries to see what will be enforced, she
adds, so “don’t overreact, and don’t take the bait.”
Each situation is different and should be evaluated
on a case-by-case basis. Erring on the side of support-
ing free speech is typically the right thing to do.
“And I think that as long you’re balancing free
speech with actual safety issues and orderly operations
in that decision-making process, the administrator
should not go wrong,” Ormond says.
After the 9/11 incident at Saddleback, college
administration met quickly to review the situation
and strategize next steps.
“First and foremost, we wanted to ensure the
instructor was safe because she received death
threats,” McCue says. College police and local law
enforcement worked together to provide full-time
security for her.
Saddleback’s director of student life reached
out to the student group, Young Americans for
Freedom ( YAF), to schedule a meeting to discuss
the district’s policy on the posting of material, as
well as the student club activation process—part
of YAF’s complaint was related to their activation
as an official college club. The meeting provided
an opportunity to calmly discuss the matter and
listen to students’ concerns regarding the district’s board policy on speech and advocacy.
McCue drafted a statement for the media, and
posted that statement on the college’s website and
shared it on social media.
“You want to get control of the message early, so
a prompt response is critical and it must simply and
clearly state the college’s position,” she says.
Of course, reaching out to legal counsel is always
a good idea, and to a media consultant who specializes in crisis situations.
After the dust has settled, debrief and reassess.
“Policies may not appear to be problematic until
the right set of facts tests them in an unexpected
way,” Ormond notes.
Perhaps one of the most important things post-secondary (and secondary) institutions can do is
to educate students about civil discourse and to
promote civic engagement.
“We need to educate students about free speech—
what it is and how it works,” Ormond says. Students
need to understand that when hearing speech they
don’t like, they can “respond with their point of
view or they can walk away and not listen.”
That didn’t happen at University of California–
Berkeley when it was announced conservative Milo
Yiannopoulos would speak on campus. Violent
protests broke out.
“The answer to speech you don’t like is more
speech,” Ormond says. “Inciting violence is not
Education may help curb incidents like those
seen on college campuses recently.
“When people get into a tense situation, they’ll
have some tools besides their normal human reaction,” Moore says.