Campus

The Code of Conduct Disconnect

 

A new student code of conduct is being introduced, and it’s become clear that a strong disconnect exists between the administration and students when it comes to free speech.

Aditya Mudigonda is a senior at Wake Forest. He is an anthropology major on a pre-med track. Mudigonda is one of several students concerned that the proposed changes to the student code of conduct will limit Demon Deacons from expressing themselves and being politically active.

“There is some sort of disconnect where you don’t get it. I think that, as someone who enforces the code, you need to get it,” stated Mudigonda.

The new code of conduct has received a lot of criticism for limiting students’ ability to express their concerns and act accordingly. The concern surrounds Section 2 subsections 11, 12, and 13. These sections outline what is prohibited regarding the destruction of property, disorderly conduct, and disruption of university activities. These subsections have generated a lot of attention and raw emotion on campus leading students to speak out at the public meetings concerning both the code of conduct and an article by the Old Gold and Black.

Problems with Expression

Some students see these conduct changes as a violation of their free speech. One of those students is Mudigonda. He believes that free speech is necessary. However, he also believes that it comes at a cost that the proposed code seems to block.

“Words can be violent. Language can have a lot of power, and there’s a lot of violence that can be manifested through language,” said Mudigonda. “So, there’s a physical reaction to that type of violence found in the written word.” His concern is that free speech could also compel people to protest and that the university will prohibit those gatherings.

“My general problem with the changes is how vague they are and how open they are to interpretation,” said Ajamy. “This means that the interpretation could change depending on who is in charge of enforcing them.”

Mudigonda believes that free speech has a place on campus, but he also believes that the administration needs to understand the response some students may have if a controversial speaker appears on campus. For example, when talking about the Confederate Flag discussion that was held on campus in 2015, Mudigonda believes it should have been stopped. He is not saying it should not have happened, but rather, students should have the right to stand up against that even if it causes disruption.

“That should have been shut down either violently or peacefully. I don’t think the word ‘disruption’ in the code of conduct should even exist,” he said. “If you want Wake to be political, then that word ‘disruption’ needs to be removed.”

Junior David Ajamy’s concern lies in how the code is written. He believes that lack of specificity in Section 2 subsections 11, 12, and 13 make them far too open-ended.  

“My general problem with the changes is how vague they are and how open they are to interpretation,” said Ajamy. “This means that the interpretation could change depending on who is in charge of enforcing them.”  

This is also something that Mudigonda finds an issue with.

“The changes that have been made are very semantical and concerned with semantics,” said Mudigonda.

Wake’s Free Speech History

The issue with free speech and freedom of expression on the Wake Forest campus is nothing new. Sophomore, Jordan Lancaster, cites the non-profit organization Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) as demonstrating that Wake Forest’s code of conduct limits free speech on campus.

FIRE, whose mission statement is, “to defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities,” has deemed Mother So Dear as a “red light” school. This means that there is at least, “one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.”

“I could definitely see how the proposed changes could inhibit free speech,” said Lancaster.

Lancaster is involved with Turning Point USA, which is an organization on campus that aims to protect free speech as well as educate people on the benefits of capitalism and the pitfalls of socialism.  There seems to be a bipartisan agreement between several students across campus that the proposed code of conduct is in need of revision.

A Positive Take

Junior William Morgan is extremely involved on campus and often interacts with the administration on behalf of the student body. He is the public relations co-chair for student government, the president of the Resident Student Association, and a president’s aide. Morgan does not have an issue with the proposed changes.

“My first reaction to the proposed changes was positive,” said Morgan. “I see that these changes are not set in stone and that the university is making an attempt to show that this is a process.”

When it comes to the campus environment, Dr. Goldstein made it clear that he wants students to feel safe on campus and for the university to function in the way that it is supposed to: to educate. When students and faculty are forced to worry about defacement of property, disorderly conduct, and the interruption of university events, then education could be inhibited.

He also highlights how the administration is making an effort to listen to students and take their opinions into consideration. He believes that the idea that there is a threat to free speech is “a little exaggerated.”

Morgan believes that these sorts of guidelines will help focus students on having a conversation with each other rather than getting caught up in protests and chalking.

“I think that the people who are proponents of those activities [protests and chalking] should really think about directly engaging those administrators,” said Morgan. “I believe there is a lot of displaced energy there, and we should focus on making an informed policy.”  

The Goals of the Code

Dean of Students Dr. Adam Goldstein is in charge of the committee responsible for the changes made to the code of conduct.

“We’re principally concerned about safety,” said Dr. Goldstein.

When it comes to the campus environment, Dr. Goldstein made it clear that he wants students to feel safe on campus and for the university to function in the way that it is supposed to: to educate. When students and faculty are forced to worry about defacement of property, disorderly conduct, and the interruption of university events, then education could be inhibited.

“We’re here to operate a learning environment both in the classroom and outside of the classroom. It gets murky when we add in these types of behaviors,” said Dr. Goldstein. “I think we’ve loosely identified areas of concern both around safety and concerning a learning environment and the operation of the institution.”

Dr. Goldstein stated that in his extensive career in higher education he has never seen students like the ones here at Wake Forest. For this reason, he made it very clear that the administration wants to keep the code of conduct process entirely transparent and work with the students to come to an amicable decision on the final product.

“We do have brighter, more engaged students. That’s something I love about Wake Forest,” said Dr. Goldstein.

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