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Philip Goodrich: Navigating Free Expression on Campuses

By Joanie Harmon

MSA student offers recommendations for how student government leaders can take the lead, set an example.

Philip Goodrich, a graduate student in the Student Affairs Program, has published an opinion piece for Inside Higher Education on the complicated task of preserving free speech on college campuses. Discussing this task with student leaders across the nation, he has discovered how student governments perceive and experience this challenge. 

“For student government leaders, it is clear that, as one of my respondents put it, ‘campus free expression is complicated and messy,’” writes Goodrich. “These findings do not and cannot represent the feelings and beliefs of all student government officers; however, they do provide a useful foundation for understanding the ways in which these leaders perceive and experience campus free expression.”

In discussion with student leaders, Goodrich found that:

    Student government leaders have different definitions of what campus free expression means to them. One respondent emphasized the importance of free expression as it pertains to the academic mission of their university, arguing “that students have the right to be who they are and who they feel on campus” and also should be “guaranteed those same rights in the classroom.”

  • Student government leaders have engaged with a wide range of issues, as free expression manifests itself in many unique ways.
  • Student government leaders support the idea of campus free expression but disagree on the practicalities, due to the need to consider cases where free expression harms certain students or populations.
  • Student government leaders view free expression as both compatible and in contention with diversity, equity and inclusion, acknowledging as one student leader noted, “one can’t really exist without the other.”
  • Student government leaders understand they have a responsibility as elected officers to represent all students, not just one particular point of view.

Goodrich makes several recommendations:

  • Student governments should be educated and trained, and in turn educate and train their future officers, on the complexities of campus free expression.
  • Student governments should develop a framework and collective understanding for expression on campus, setting expectations when it comes to speech and expression.
  • Student governments should publicly commit themselves to the values of free expression and diversity, equity and inclusion.
  • Student governments should provide structured spaces to promote free expression, viewpoint diversity and civil discourse, such as open forums on relevant societal issues or events.
  • Student governments should model the behavior they wish to see on their campus, setting the bar for campus expression and conduct.

Goodrich has served two terms as the president of the Chapman University Student Government Association and was an intern for the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Campus Free Expression Project.

To read Goodrich’s opinion piece, visit the Inside Higher Education website.