This week we sat down with Vice President for Student Affairs John Saddlemire to talk about activism and social engagement on campus.

Why do you think activism on campus has gained so much traction this academic year?

There’s no doubt that the heated presidential campaign, election, and aftermath have directly impacted a general uptick in activism on campuses nationwide. Topics of debate from the election cycle and current events around the world have included political correctness, race relations, immigration, and sexual assault (just to name a few) and we have found that their relevancy has extended beyond Election night and continues to be a source of disagreement and unrest.   

How is freedom of speech different on our campus than it is in broader society?

As stated in the Student Handbook pages 79-80:

“Bryant University affirms the right to peaceful assembly and free speech. At the same time, the University has long recognized that the right to protest and demonstrate does not include the right to engage in conduct that disrupts the University’s operations or endangers the safety of others. The rights of others to participate in learning, teaching, and other campus events and activities must not be infringed upon….. Protests or demonstrations that infringe upon the rights of others to peaceful assembly, orderly protest, free exchange of ideas, or that interfere with the rights of others to make use of or enjoy the facilities or attend the functions of the University will not be tolerated. The Unistructure Rotunda and Fisher Center Patio are the sites designated for protests and demonstrations.”

Additional information is listed in this section of the Student Handbook include Guidelines and Expectations for Protest Attendance and is in place to protect the rights of all members of the University Community. They include:

  • Do not block egress to and from campus buildings, offices and classrooms:
  • Signs supported by standards or sticks are not allowed in University buildings:
  • Noise that interferes with classes, events, and other activities is not acceptable:
  • Sound amplification can only be used with prior permission;
  • Demonstrations or behavior that obstruct or seriously impair the ability of the administration, staff, and/or faculty to conduct University business are not allowed.

What is the importance of social engagement beyond classes at Bryant?

Civic engagement or civic participation is defined according to the American Psychological Association as “individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issue of public concern.” This kind of engagement coincides with the very mission of Bryant University which is “to educate and inspire students to discover their passion and become innovative leaders of character around the world.” The more opportunities to engage, debate, and discuss current events, world issues, and sensitive topics, the better prepared our students will be as leaders in their respective fields.

One such civic engagement initiative currently in process is The Unity Pledge. The Unity Pledge is a call to all members of the Bryant community to come together and in a visible way, demonstrate Bryant’s commitment to humanity, civility, and unity.  Our vision is to have unity pins worn proudly around campus and to have members of the Bryant community engage in daily activities that encourage sharing and learning of diverse lived experiences. Stop by the Center for Diversity & Inclusion to sign the pledge and pick up a Unity pin.

What is your advice to students who want to start sensitive conversations on campus about current events?

One piece of advice would be to utilize the extensive resources on campus. There are people who work at Bryant whose job it is to help you. Take advantage of these resources:

  • The Intercultural Center, The Women’s Center, Campus Ministry, and Pride Center – all of which are departments within the PwC Center for Diversity & Inclusion.
  • Office of Campus Engagement: There may be a student club or organization on campus that aligns with a student’s passion and interest where a student may go to discuss sensitive issues about current events. In addition, the Office of Campus Engagement offers various programming that bring together many different voices around campus as an opportunity to share ideas and discuss concerns.
  • Faculty members: We are fortunate at Bryant to have faculty members within various departments who continue to support students with questions and discussions based around political events.
  • Counseling Services: Our Counseling Services team is always available to assist with any student who may be feeling emotional stress or anxiety due to current events. (Call 401-232-6045 to schedule an appointment.)
  • Residence Life: Your Resident Assistant, Resident/Area Director, and other Residence Life Staff can assist with listening to your concerns and pointing you in the right direction for additional resources.

If you’re not sure where to go, come to the Vice President for Student Affairs office (located across from the Post Office) and we will connect you with the best resource.