Extending the Fearless Inquiries Project to the University of Arizona student body, College of Humanities faculty presented new student orientation sessions that outline the importance of freedom of expression on campus.
The sessions were part of Destination Arizona, a three-day extended orientation program designed to welcome all new students. The College of Humanities partnered with the Dean of Students and Dean of Undergraduate Admissions offices to develop the sessions, which connected the College of Humanities’ Fearless Inquiries Project to a broader campus-wide student engagement initiative. The Fearless Inquiries Project is a long-term, flagship effort at the College of Humanities specifically aimed at catalyzing a national culture that prizes open discussion, independent judgement and the questioning of stubborn assumptions. The project is supported by a gift commitment of $5.4 million from alumni Jacquelynn and Bennett Dorrance.
“It makes a lot of sense that the humanities would facilitate a conversation about the freedom of expression,” said Ken McAllister, College of Humanities Associate Dean for Research and Program Innovation, who moderated the sessions. “It’s a college that specializes in bringing people of different cultures and languages together and navigating the complexities and opportunities that occur as a result. No matter someone’s discipline, the freedom of expression really helps people here on campus to both be and become ourselves.”
The Destination Arizona sessions, open to all newly enrolled students as well as their parents, was accompanied by a video module titled Wild Perspectives that introduced students to the mindset of Fearless Inquiry and proposed how that mindset can be used to navigate the many perspectives that students are likely to encounter in and beyond the classroom. The video, produced by the College of Humanities, will be a standing element among the Dean of Students Office resources related to the First Amendment.
Creating “A Wildcat Guide to Freedom of Expression” is part of an ongoing plan to help lead future orientation programs that lay a critical foundation for new students.
Colleen Lucey, Assistant Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies, told students about the various ways they might encounter freedom of expression on campus, including preachers, demonstrations, promotional materials and flyers. Lucey said students should resist the urge to completely dismiss a perspective or opinion that is different from their own and instead ask questions and take part in conversations.
“Some causes you might identify with, some you might find unwelcome. Free speech guarantees the right to voice opinion, even if it is controversial, and the variety of perspectives on campus is a healthy thing,” she said. “The university campus is where you get to have conversations that matter. It’s a place where differing viewpoints are respected and that is a beautiful thing. The point of university life is to find your own way, your own voice, to understand for yourself what your belief system is.”
Tani Sanchez, Professor of Practice in the Department of Africana Studies, spoke of student experiences in the classroom, from lectures and guest speakers to classroom debate to conducting research and putting forward their own arguments. Students can wonder how to express their ideas and engage in intellectual and academic discussions with others, but it’s important to remember to put the focus of the critique on ideas, not on the criticism of people, she said.
“Recognize that they and you can bring differing knowledges to the table. Listen and ask questions in the spirit of honesty and sincerity, with the objective of learning, not contesting. Knowledge is the reward of these conversations,” she said. “This exposure is a chance for you to evolve into the very best person you can be. Make sure you are open to growth and intellectual challenges.”
Stephanie Springer, Internship Director and Principal Lecturer in the Department of Public & Applied Humanities, spoke about how the skills students gain related to the freedom of expression can be valuable in their careers beyond college.
“You are gaining amazing skills and a mindset related to fearless inquiries, including becoming creative thinkers, more thoughtful listeners, and more understanding communicators. These skills have a place on campus as well as in the workplace,” she said.
Springer discussed the differences in rights of free expression for public and private employers and how to use the fearless inquiry skillset to research and understand various companies and their policies, values and cultures so that students can find a good fit professionally and personally.
Robert Côté, Director of the Center for English as a Second Language, discussed how the University is a global campus and how that international context relates to the freedom of expression.
Freedom of expression can also describe how people look or dress, including tattoos and other forms of body modification that are common in the United States but might be culturally regulated or legally forbidden in an international student’s home country.
“I have lived and worked in many countries and I work with students from many countries where our American concept individuality and freedom of expression is not the norm,” he said. “Recognize that people have a different lived experience and it’s valid. You may not agree with what they say or their choices, but they have the freedom to express their choices.”
Côté said the university campus presents students with numerous opportunities to step outside their comfort zones to find new challenges and learning opportunities.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions, don’t make assumptions about people, listen before you speak, and always evaluate a person for who they are as an individual and not as a member of a larger group,” he said. “On our campus, we want you to express yourself and question things and dialogue with professors. The job of your instructors is to help you practice critical thinking, not tell you want to think, and to educate you, not indoctrinate you.”
Alain-Philippe Durand, Dorrance Dean of the College of Humanities, said developing the special presentations was an important new phase in the Fearless Inquiries Project, which in its first year focused more on public outreach, including the Perspectives Series and Humanities Leadership Summit held in April in Washington, D.C.
“The perspectives that we teach in the humanities are highly valuable for the public, particularly when society faces challenges that can’t be reduced to the problems solvable through the expertise of just one or two disciplines or professions. We also wanted to make sure that University of Arizona students are exposed to these wide-ranging ideas and skills as they begin their campus journeys,” he said.