By: Jess Ward, News Editor
This semester, USM has been home to several incidents involving the right to free speech and its place on a college campus. With controversial speakers and a tumultuous political atmosphere, faculty members at USM have decided that there is a need for constructive conversation between students.
In response to this need, the university has allowed the opening of its first Freedom of Expression Space (FoX). Located on the first floor of the Glickman Library on the Portland campus in the Paul Tarbox and Family Arcade, the FoX encourages students, faculty and staff to express and experience a wide variety of ideas and opinions. The Arcade is open and available from 7:45 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with hours varying on the weekend in accordance with Glickman Library’s scheduled hours of operation.
The idea for the space came from Dr. Leroy Rowe, Assistant Professor of African American History and Politics, and Dr. Rebecca Nisetich, Director of Honors. Rowe says he hopes the space will help students and faculty “learn about each other’s experiences.”
Dr. Lance Gibbs, Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology and Race & Ethnic Studies, is leading the charge to open and run the space, in conjunction with Rowe. It is also part of the Gloria S. Duclos Convocation Committee’s “freedom of expression initiative.” This space aims to help combat close-mindedness and help spread the idea that conflicting opinions should coexist in a healthy and productive dialogue.
Gibbs wrote in an email to the USM community that the FoX “exists to encourage all members of the university community to express a full range of ideas, not just their own.” He hosted the space’s first informal discussion on Oct. 17, titled “The (Mis)Conceptions of Black Fatherhood.”
The next scheduled event is on Nov. 13, which will feature President Glenn Cummings and the Intercultural Diversity Advisory Council (IDAC). The conversation will revolve around Cummings’ recent speech introducing Gerald Talbot, in which he used the N-word. Talbot is a prominent liberal politician in Maine and was the first black Representative of the state.
Director of Libraries and University Librarian David Nutty confirmed that there will be weekly discussions held in the FoX, likely on Wednesdays, to facilitate conversation between students about different issues. As of this publication, there is no formalized schedule of events or discussions, but Rowe hopes that students will use the space outside of registered events.
“It should be free and open,” Rowe said, as he encourages students to find an opportunity to visit and utilize the FoX.
When using the space, students are expected to value their peers’ input, while considering how this right can be used to promote constructive conversation and eliminate cross political divides. Rowe’s goal is to have mediators at all of the events, with guidelines centered around respect and courtesy.
“With the right of freedom of expression comes the moral responsibility to think carefully about how that right is exercised,” writes Gibbs, “we have the responsibility to subject old truths to scrutiny and put forward new ideas to improve and create a more peaceful and just society.”