Comment on Civil Discourse Club Whiteboard Sparks Controversy Regarding Free Speech

Graphic: Angela Scott

The question was simple. “Do you feel comfortable to freely express your views here at LBCC — why or why not?” One answer has caused controversy.

One anonymous response said, “No: OSU has too many Muslim women in ‘body bags’ — what’s underneath?”

Shortly after this writing was posted on the board, library staff had a serious discussion on what they should do with the board. “Richenda [Hawkins], Jane [Sandberg], and I talked for several minutes about what we thought would be the appropriate response to this hateful language,” said Bryan Miyagishima, one of LBCC’s librarians.

“Leave it up and let students respond themselves, and perhaps make our Muslim students feel less safe here at the college? Take it down immediately, perhaps, acting counter to our shared values of free speech?”

In the end, the library decided to move the board from public view, and contact The Civil Discourse Club directly.

In response to the incident, The Civil Discourse Club has implemented new policies.

“We have updated and clarified the code of conduct outlined on the etiquette poster that accompanies the whiteboard,” the club leadership said in a statement. “This new wording includes details about how the club officers will evaluate comments and the actions that may be taken if a similar situation occurs in the future.”

Brandon Calhoun, president of the club, added it is “not a freedom of expression club, we are a civil discourse club. We want to create a learning environment.”

However, the fact that this message was written on the board has raised several questions among community members about attitudes regarding Muslim students at LBCC.

“If you look at it, there is a theme in higher ed which shouldn’t be happening. There are huge incidents taking place with diversity and inclusion,” said Seemab Hussaini, an organizer for Unite Oregon. The group is focused on building a unified intercultural movement for justice.

Hussaini, himself a Muslim, is worried about the impact that not addressing comments, such as those made on the LBCC whiteboard, and how they can adversely affect the Muslim community, while Emboldening those who seek to purvey a message of hate.
“If these incidents are not mentioned as something the school does not stand by … that’s not responsible,” said Hussaini.

Around campus, students shared their thoughts on the comments made on the whiteboard.

“I feel like that is what is actually creating the sort of conflict that makes us need to question whether or not we can be comfortable expressing ourselves. Honestly, I think that’s harmful,” said Keziah Robbins.

Jennie Link said, “I don’t get why somebody would write that. Why is it relevant to the question that was asked.”

“It’s a self choice of what they wear, and how they dress,” said Larissa Williams.

Since the comment appeared on the whiteboard The Civil Discourse Club has taken action to make sure that proper etiquette is adhered to when providing comments. The club has put up guidelines to keep the conversation civil, reserving the right to wipe away any hateful comments.

“We are trying to make sure that with our board students feel safe,” Calhoun said. “These comments don’t help achieve goals as a Civil Discourse Club.”

In a written statement addressing the issue, library faculty wrote, “And because we try to be a home to all, there are some things that we cannot allow. Explicitly hostile public expression that directly targets particular groups of people is one of those.”

For the full library response, please follow this link.

Story by Alex Gaub, Millicent Durand, and Sarah Melcher

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