July 8, 2020
Over the past day, I have received multiple heartrending messages from a number of our students, including members of our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) community, expressing their concerns about a current student’s social media posts pertaining to racial justice issues. The fact that these reports have emerged on the heels of last month’s solidarity demonstration and march, ongoing student activism, as well as my personal statement and that of the Cabinet in support of racial justice and anti-racism, is all the more dispiriting. Indeed, it serves as a stark reminder of how much work still needs to be done to become an anti-racist college.
I imagine that reading these sentiments from a member of the Geneseo community raises apprehension for BIPOC students and their allies who are preparing for arrival to campus this fall. I want to take this opportunity to publicly restate my deep personal commitment to promoting racial justice and declaration that at Geneseo, we believe Black Lives Matter.
In this specific case, I want you to know that our Bias Prevention and Response Team and Dean of Students’ Office are actively reviewing the matter. Regardless of the outcome of that analysis, it doesn’t make the pain and outrage any less real. I am grateful to those who reached out to me directly to voice their concerns and make us aware of this matter.
There are clear legal limitations to what speech may be punished, particularly at a public university, where freedom of expression must be supported. Not only is protected speech constitutionally assured, it is central to a free society and an institution of higher learning. It is often said that the best response to inflammatory speech is more speech. I will strongly denounce speech that does not align with our values and encourage others to do so as well through your own discourse and personal and group discussions. Additionally, I reaffirm our College’s commitment expressed in my June 11th email to “be proactive and work against the forces of systemic racism to make Geneseo a place where all members of our community feel valued and respected — and know without doubt that they truly matter.”
Denise A. Battles