COMS Statement, March 23, 2022: Commitment to Academic Freedom
The KU COMS Department endorses and joins the National Communication Association (NCA) with the following statement. Below the statement, we offer some additional resources that help readers engage in this conversation in an educated way.
Legislation prohibiting the teaching of gender, sexuality, and race limits academic freedom within classrooms. NCA recognizes that the passage and proposal of laws and policies in a dozen states regarding curricula has a broader chilling effect that curtails the effective teaching, learning, and practice of communication in areas such as critical race theory (CRT). As the preeminent scholarly society devoted to the study and teaching of Communication, with more than a dozen member groups devoted to gender, sexuality, and race, NCA affirms its support for Communication scholars who teach in these areas and affirms its commitment to academic freedom because such freedom strengthens institutional inclusion, diversity, equity, and access, and advances principles of democracy.
The classroom is a space of intellectual growth where teachers and students build knowledge to solve human problems, to become informed citizens, and to create a more just society. Prohibiting “uncomfortable” conversations about identity and history does not erase inequality. It does deprive students of meaningful opportunities to engage in robust discussions with trained professionals. While such classroom conversations are necessarily challenging, they are well-founded in empirical and philosophical research and can serve to foster cultural competency as well as the development of solutions to racial and social injustice.
Free and ethical communication is a foundation of American democracy. The Department of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas joins the National Communication Association in rejecting laws and policies that threaten academic freedom and undermine democracy.
Want to learn more about NCA’s commitment to academic freedom? Click here: NCA’s Academic Freedom Statement
Opportunities for Students:
PEN’s Free Speech Advocacy Institutes - PEN America
“Educators Ungagged: Teaching Truth in the Era of Racial Backlash" – Intersectionality Matters with Kimberlé Crenshaw. Kimberlé presents a conversation from the African American Policy Forum's Under the Blacklight series.
Toolkits for Advocacy:
#TruthBeTold Messaging Guide - African American Policy Forum
#TruthBeTold Campaign Tool Kit - African American Policy Forum
Critical race theory fightback tool kit - Education Justice Research and Organizing Collaborative
Information about Anti-CRT Campaigns:
“Combatting Critical Race Theory in Your Community” - Citizens for Renewing America
Information about Anti-CRT Bills and Similar Legislation:
Over the past couple weeks, several incidents here at the University of Kansas have made it clear that KU’s administration must do more to protect our current students and create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for future Jayhawks.
- On Saturday, September 4, 2021, two individuals damaged four pieces of Native art at KU’s Spencer Museum of Art. Three days later, KU Public Safety released images of two individuals thought to be responsible for this act of violence. This act, regardless of intention, targeted the KU Common work of art Native Host by KU alumnus Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheyenne, Arapaho). This artwork served many functions, including honoring the Native people who occupied this land before Lawrence or KU existed. KU’s administration remained silent until September 13, 2021, the day after a protest was held on KU’s campus by the First Nations Student Association.
- On Thursday, September 9, 2021, Chancellor Girod released a public statement expressing disappointment and concern “regarding a recent Twitter post by our student body president.” While both noting that the post is clearly protected by the First Amendment and refusing to actually name KU’s Student Body President, Niya McAdoo. Chancellor Girod nevertheless felt compelled to add, “I strongly disagree with the sentiment of her retweet, and I want to make clear that she does not speak for the university on this or any other matter.”
- On Saturday, September 11, 2021, police were alerted about an alleged sexual assault that occurred in the Phi Kappa Psi chapter fraternity house at KU. The following Monday and Tuesday, after no arrests had been made, protesters gathered on the lawn of Phi Kappa Psi’s fraternity house. Protestors then followed those demonstrations with a sit-in at Strong Hall three days later, demanding KU’s administration respond to these allegations with public actions. On Tuesday, September 14, 2021, in response to the protests, the Chancellor’s office released a statement condemning sexual assault in “our society,” reaffirming Title IX, and providing links to campus resources. This response comes just two years after the release of KU data from 2018 showing that 26% of undergraduate women at KU “said they have been sexually assaulted since entering college.” (There are resources on and off campus to support individuals who have experienced sexual assault.)
The Department of Communication Studies finds these incidents deeply troubling. It should not take a full week and a student-led protest for KU’s administration to condemn in the strongest terms an act of violence that targeted Native artwork. It should not ever be the case that KU’s Chancellor publicly condemn the views of one of over 27,000 current Jayhawk students because of a re-tweet. Furthermore, it should not fall on the shoulders of KU students to seek justice for a sexual assault victim when the severity of the problem on and around campus has been made repeatedly clear. It should not be the responsibility of marginalized and vulnerable students to make KU a better, more inclusive, welcoming, and safe community.
Therefore, we call on KU’s administration to act now.
We ask KU’s administrators to join with the First Nations Student Association and the KU Native Faculty and Staff Council in demanding justice for the racially-related act of violence against the Native community. Violence against Native people has persisted for far too long—especially on a campus which espouses values of diversity, equity, inclusivity, and belonging.
We ask KU’s administrators to unequivocally support students’ right to free speech and not give in to partisan pressure to condemn views that some find uncomfortable. Singling out the views of underrepresented and historically marginalized students, especially those who engage in dissent, completely fails to ensure that KU is a supportive and inclusive place for all people.
We ask KU’s administrators to enact meaningful changes to fight sexual assault, which include consistent and enforceable penalties for such acts, increasing the speed at which cases are heard, investigated and resolved, and creating concrete mechanisms to ensure the safety of students who have been assaulted. We also call for stronger measures to proactively prevent sexual assault and rape culture from thriving at KU.
Ultimately, we call on KU’s administrators to realize that it is well past time for concrete action. If it is truly part of KU’s mission “to lift students and society by…building healthy communities,” then KU’s leaders must do a better job here at home, especially for people who continue to be marginalized. All Jayhawks deserve better and we deserve better now.
The Department of Communication Studies stands in solidarity with the Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. We recognize and condemn the historical discrimination against the AAPI communities, which has severely increased over the past year, and join in mourning over the recent acts of violence against Asian Americans in Atlanta, GA. Further, this particular act of gender-based violence targeted AAPI women during Women's History Month, a time when women should be celebrated and honored.
As communication scholars, we believe the ways we discuss, represent, and otherwise communicate meaning about oppressed communities are powerful factors in how these instances of violence are justified. We call on our students, staff, and colleagues within the Department of Communication Studies to continue to resist white supremacy, anti-Asian racism, and misogyny in all their forms, discursive and material, and we remain committed to advancing inclusion and belonging for all people in the KU community.
We strongly encourage those who witness acts of hate, bias, or discrimination to report such acts or intervene when possible, and we urge our communities to look to the Stop AAPI Hate and the AAPI COVID-19 Project for resources concerning mental health support, hate crime reporting, and bystander education.
To our Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander faculty and staff, students, and alumni near and far, we stand together in solidarity.
The deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and George Floyd at the hands of current and former police officers in recent weeks are a stark reminder of the systemic racism that infects the United States. We in the Department of Communication Studies stand with those condemning these murders, demanding that Black Lives Matter, and calling for change. Moreover, we have been appalled by the use of militarized police tactics to attack peaceful protesters. These tactics are an assault to the core values of our democracy.
The uprisings happening around this nation are a direct result of hundreds of years of discrimination and hate. They are also a sign that people can no longer tolerate the cultural and economic inequalities that disproportionately affect women and minorities—inequalities that the COVID-19 pandemic have laid bare. We believe it is past time for reforms that create more just and equal lives for everyone.
Given all of this, we recommit ourselves to working to eradicate racism, sexism, ableism, and other forms of discrimination through both our teaching and research. We reaffirm our belief that human communication, in all its forms, must be at the heart of such work. Ultimately, we are dedicated to advancing communicative practices that encourage empathy, advance justice, and build ethical communities.