URBANA — Several University of Illinois academic units have pressed administrators to take a stance against words and actions they say threaten students amid tense debates on what constitutes free speech.
Chancellor Robert Jones sent out a mass email two weeks ago responding to concerns that include Chief-related “Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day” T-shirts, harassment of Muslim students, anti-immigrant messages on the quad and the defacing of an Israeli flag at a protest. Jones asked the campus to combat hateful speech with “speech that builds connections and shared understanding,” the News-Gazette reported.
But faculty from African American Studies, American Indian Studies, Asian American Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, and Latino Studies challenged Jones with a petition last week on “Racism and ‘Free Speech.'” The petition said Jones’ email was “insufficient at best.”
“The refusal on the part of the University of Illinois to denounce even the content of the messages or the threats themselves only emboldens students to continue these and related acts of intimidation, safe in the knowledge that the university will do little to protect students from harm,” the petition read. “Furthermore, the administration’s approach has made some students more vulnerable than others.”
Jones acknowledged at a campus Senate hearing that his email didn’t properly communicate the university’s “core values,” but took offense to the petition’s suggestion that the school’s approach represented a tolerance for “xenophobia, racism, as well as white supremacy, as forms of free speech.”
Some of the proposals the petition calls for includes the university condemning hate speech under the Trump administration, supporting vulnerable students, creating legal resources for students in the country illegally and hiring faculty in immigration and tribal law.