Free speech, civil discourse and preparing future leaders
The recent protests occurring across college campuses, including at UTSA, are reminders of the power of public discourse and the importance of universities to provide students with the intellectual tools for civic engagement — preparing them to go out into the world and engage constructively with people of differing opinions.
The skills needed to participate in civil discourse are becoming even more critical in light of our current political climate. The polarization of our county — sometimes resulting in violent conflicts — are deeply rooted at the intersection of constitutionally guaranteed free speech and individual values.
The question of how we best prepare our children and young adults for this complex world extends far beyond the formal walls of our educational systems. Young people emulate the actions they see in others, which is why we must consider it our collective responsibility to model the principles of civil discourse.
This is an especially important role for universities like UTSA, which function as marketplaces for ideas and diverse thought. Universities are uniquely positioned — and obligated — to be places where ideas are shared and challenged, even when those ideas are difficult, unpopular or offensive.
UTSA is encouraging students to express their beliefs with passion and conviction while putting just as much energy into listening and understanding alternate points of view. The university is developing a slate of scholarly and leadership programming to include trainings, workshops, guest speakers and curriculum integrations (utsa.edu/civicdiscourse). This initiative is firmly grounded in UTSA’s core values of integrity, inclusiveness, collaboration and respect, and the aim is for the university to be exemplary.
Shining a bright light on difficult issues, and discussing them openly and without fear, is essential to building strong communities and a strong country. The more we do to model the balance between civic engagement and civility, especially for our youth — the leaders of tomorrow — the better off we will be as a society.