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Better Tunnel Vision

While the name “Campus Culture and Community Task Force” doesn’t conjure up images of impassioned debate, that’s exactly what’s been happening. The strategic planning group, headed by Jose Picart, vice provost for diversity and inclusion, has a case of tunnel vision—Free Expression Tunnel vision.

A Nov. 2 incident and ensuing protest over racially charged graffiti directed at President Obama has enlivened the group’s work on strategies for improving the campus climate.

Picart says the debate over the Free Expression Tunnel will help the task force gather more input and build on changes made following a similar 2008 incident.

Familiar Territory

Picart was front and center in developing a response when racial slurs and threats against then President-elect Obama appeared in the tunnel on the morning after the 2008 election, prompting a Secret Service investigation.

There’s a mistaken impression that no changes were made in response to the 2008 incident, Picart says. Not true.

“A number of the recommendations from a campuswide task force were implemented,” he says. “Some were not, and the chancellor has asked us to take another look at those.”

The university’s response included amending the Student Code of Conduct to address hate speech as defined by state and federal laws. The University of North Carolina system adopted a uniform policy on hate speech for all campuses, while affirming support for free speech. NC State added a diversity course to its general education requirements, which took effect last summer.

Moving Forward

The committee, which has welcomed students, staff and faculty with a wide range of views, is looking at several ideas to promote civil campus discourse. The top priority, Picart says, is finding a way to educate students about campus values.

The group is exploring how a Values and Ethics Advisory Council could take an active role in developing and communicating a set of core values, such as academic excellence, respect for others, integrity, diversity and community service. Another idea is having the group set up a protocol spelling out student conduct expectations and consequences for violations. Some people are backing a university creed.

Finding ways to promote interaction among diverse student groups is part of the long-term work to be done, Picart says, along with seminars on topics such as free speech, hate speech and GLBT issues.

The task force welcomes input from all members of campus. Its next meeting will be at 1:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 15, in the Winslow Hall conference room. You can also submit suggestions online.

Responses (3 Comments)

  • Brenda Lawrence

    I think too much is being made of this issue. For example, while I, as a woman, don’t particularly enjoy looking at penises dripping ejaculate or the use of derogatory language to describe women, I DO enjoy many of the illustrations, etc., and I would never block the tunnel over it because it is the FREE EXPRESSION TUNNEL. As a matter of fact, I think the students who trapped the student in the tunnel should be charged with false imprisonment, because that is the only actual crime that transpired.

    I can’t imagine that anyone actually feels threatened by what’s written in the tunnel…it seems to me it’s just a way for certain groups to keep their names in the spotlight.

    In short, the students who were offended and Picart and his ilk need to lighten up!

  • michael wohlgenant

    I have been a professor at this university since 1978. I have always found the tunnel to be offensive because of use of curse words and vulgar expressions. I agree that racial slurs and threats are out of line, but so are any curse words and vulgar expressions. I can remember walking with my children (when they were young) through the tunnel one time and seeing the f word right on the wall in front of us. I was absolutely stunned and highly offended. Moreover, my children should not have been subjected to that language. My question for you is: Why do you allow vulgar and curse words and language? Why are they considered protected speech for public property paid for by taxpayers! This should not be!

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