Original Value Statement Conflicted With First Amendment Rights
By KIRSTEN MORGAN
The Board of Visitors met at the end of last month to finalize and approve the changes to the Community Values Statement set in motion by President Rick Hurley.
The changes were prompted by an incident in 2007, when an offensive picture in Jefferson Hall created uproar on campus.
The incident prompted President Rick Hurley to take a more intensive look at the Community Values Statement, which at the time said that the university would “refuse to tolerate behavior” that violated the school’s values.
Administrators found the statement to be in violation of the first amendment, because it implied that university officials had the power to limit students’ freedom of speech.
After many tweaks to the wording and discussions about the most essential elements to include, the BOV approved the statement to say, “As members of the University community, we will not condone behavior that compromises or threatens these values.”
In the years following the Jefferson Hall incident Anand Rao, associate professor of communications, oversaw three stages of the development of the Community Values Statement.
“President Hurley asked for a number of individuals and groups on campus to start drafting such a policy,” Rao said of the first stage.
The Executive Board, campus diversity groups and advisory committees worked on and submitted many drafts over the course of a year and a half. The statement was finalized last month in its seventh draft.
According to Rao, the second and third stages of the process allowed for minute changes to the document and its wording, as well as input and review by any individuals and campus groups that were not initially involved in the process.
Rao explained the various ways in which the UMW campus was allowed to comment on the changes, such as on the website diversity.umw.edu.
“This document has been fully vetted as I’ve seen any document we’ve ever produced, and I am proud of that,” Rao said during the BOV meeting on Feb. 18.
Hurley addressed the campus’ diversity policy after the incident in Jefferson Hall, aiming to increase awareness around campus that would by reflected by the new diversity statements.
“I remember that the incident caused an uproar on campus,” senior Lee Gilliam said. “At the Town Hall meeting, students began to yell at the Jefferson Hall students or people who stood in defense of them.”
Gilliam even remembers one student being physically injured by another student over the issue.
“I think it will make dealing with future incidents more efficient as it states what the University upholds in relation to diversity, inclusive and non-discrimination with clear terms,” Gilliam said.
Senior Emily Morton lived in Jefferson during her freshman year and thinks that the document will be helpful in reinforcing the value of diversity for UMW.
“I don’t believe that this event portrayed the UMW view, and I was certainly hurt that as a resident of Jefferson, I was labeled as racist and against diversity,” Morton added.
Melody Ain, senior and president of People for the Rights of Individuals of Sexual Minorities, also remembered being upset by this incident.
“I think this document will be helpful, but it’s going to take a lot of time, education and patience,” Ain said.
She added that it will help the future of the campus by starting dialogue among the community, and bringing awareness to the many types of diversity of the world as well as on campus.
“President Hurley’s actions were appropriate, I do think, because the school needed to take some kind of action against what happened,” Ain said. “I do think we need more hands-on activity to reach out to students about this and make sure there are ways to make it applicable.”