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Staff Profile: Student Affairs staff on Guiding Principles on Speech and Expression review team

Rico Tyler and Abdul-Malik Ryan

As part of DePaul’s Speech and Race Action Plan implemented in Fall Quarter 2016, a team of faculty, staff and students has been assembled to review the university’s Guiding Principles on Speech and Expression. The principles serve as guidelines for faculty, staff and students as they exercise their right to express themselves on campus. Team members were recommended to and then selected by Fr. Dennis Holtschneider, and Abdul-Malik Ryan and Rico Tyler of the Division of Student Affairs were slated to serve on the committee. The group will come together for the first time in mid-January, so we sat down with Tyler and Ryan to talk to them about their roles on the task force.

Q: What is your role at DePaul?

Abdul-Malik Ryan: I am the assistant director of the Office of Religious Diversity. I am also the Muslim Chaplain and the Chaplain for the School for New Learning.

Rico Tyler:  I serve as the associate vice president for Student Affairs. I work directly with the Office of Multicultural Student Success, the Center for Identity, Inclusion and Social Change, the Office of Adult, Veteran and Commuter Affairs and Athletic Academic Advising. Additionally, I’m overseeing the Social Justice and Inclusion Competency Initiative, the Bias Response Team Development Task Force and corporate sponsorship for the division.

Q: What inspired you to join the committee?

A-MR: I think it is important to bring the Student Affairs perspective to the committee. Most of the recent controversies involving speech and expression on campus have involved student organization programs rather than classrooms activities, although I think both arenas are essential to consider. In addition, representing the Muslim community and the Office of Religious Diversity (ORD) is important as well. In ORD we work very closely with Muslim, Jewish and African-American students. These groups are among those who are often most concerned about hostile and offensive speech on campus. At the same time, as marginalized groups, we are aware of the importance of allowing for speech and expression that may make majority, powerful groups uncomfortable. Finally, I think that my own experience of being targeted and harassed for my own speech gives me added perspective for what is at stake.

RT: I was inspired to join the committee because I am invested in the success of our students. Additionally, I understand the impact the guidelines could have not only on students, but faculty and staff as well. I sincerely believe the guiding principles will dictate the tone and tenor of the open exchange of ideas at DePaul University.

Q: Why is the Guiding Principles on Speech and Expression review necessary?

A-MR: Recent events have led to calls for a review of the guidelines, which were originally developed in 2010. Beyond that, if you look at the guidelines from six years ago, one of the things they call for clearly are ongoing discussions about the difficult issues raised by speech and expression, so it makes sense to revisit the issue as part of the broader efforts taking place on campus to address free speech and race.

RT: The world has dramatically changed since the original guidelines were crafted. The advances in social media, as well as the increasing polarization of our country, require a fresh look at the balance between our values and speech.

Q: What considerations will you make as you review the Guidelines?

A-MR: In my own preparation and thinking so far, I have been struck by a couple of things. First, if we step back to think about the need to preserve rights of free expression, these [rights] are designed to protect unpopular views and the views of those who are marginalized from power. Those who are powerful, by definition, have the ability to make spaces safe for themselves and the views they hold dear, so I think bringing the lens of power relationships to these discussions is important. Second, as a person who works in ministry at DePaul, I am struck by the deep need to make our Vincentian values real when it comes to speech and expression at the university.

RT: The impact on the campus community could be substantial. If a line is drawn, that line must be firmly grounded in the institution’s foundational statements. Good or bad, if said line is drawn, it becomes a value statement that could dictate the climate of the university.

“Ignoring our values and the mission of DePaul University would be a great loss in this context. I want us to continue to keep our mission and values at the center of this discussion and to do so in a deep and thoughtful way,” Abdul-Malik concluded.

More information on the Guiding Principles of Free Speech and Expression and the review committee can be found here.