Freedom of Expression and Mutual Respect
Sarah Lawrence is committed to offering all its students the fullest opportunity to pursue their education. We believe education best occurs in an atmosphere of unfettered inquiry and freedom of expression; we believe such inquiry and expression are possible only in a community founded on mutual respect and tolerance practiced by students, faculty and staff alike. Free and robust debate and exchange of ideas are at the heart of our academic enterprise. However, the College makes a distinction between free expression of ideas and physical or verbal abuse which threatens or inhibits such expression, or significantly interferes with a person's education. Repeated and confirmed instances of abuse or harassment will be subject to College disciplinary action as outlined in the student handbook under "Social Discipline."
The Deans of the College or the Student Conduct Review Board may assess whether a verbal action constitutes an abuse serious enough to warrant disciplinary action. With the understanding that speech includes both oral and written forms of communication, the following definitions will serve as guidelines:
- Threatening or menacing speech: speech intended to put a particular person in reasonable fear of physical or psychological harm, or speech that may reasonably be foreseen to induce such fear;
- Slander: speech referring to a particular person that is false, defamatory and malicious, with malice understood as knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard of truth;
- Verbal harassment: a pattern of behavior entailing at least two instances of insulting and vituperative speech, directed at a particular person and in the presence of that person, that may reasonably be foreseen to interfere with that person's education, inhibit that person's freedom of action or expression or cause significant mental or emotional harm.
- Assaultive speech: speech intended to insult and provoke, employing vituperative obscenity or abusive epithets, directed at a particular person and made in that person's presence, without reasonable provocation, that may reasonably be foreseen to interfere with that person's education, inhibit that person's freedom of action or expression or cause significant mental or emotional harm.
These definitions may be employed to evaluate allegations of harassment of all kinds, including but not limited to harassment on the basis of race, sex, ethnicity, religion, age, disability or sexual orientation. We hope that these definitions may also serve to guide members of the community in the formation of ideas and expression of responses to others that are critically constructive, ethically responsible and intellectually courageous.
The College recognizes that, in the course of living together as a community, hurtful and offensive remarks may be made in the heat of intellectual argument, political debate, verbal gamesmanship, and personal disagreement, that may cause anger, embarrassment or discomfort, but that do not constitute serious harassment. We urge students to resolve conflicts that cause or are caused by such remarks through the various types of mediation available in the College: friends, dons, the staff of the Office of Student Affairs and Deans.
Allegations of possible harassment involving faculty or members of staff may be presented to the Dean of the College or the Vice President of Human Resources, as appropriate. Complaints against the Dean of the College or the Vice President for Human Resources may be presented to the Vice President for Administration. Students who consider that they have been harassed by other students in terms of the definitions outlined above may file a complaint with the Student Conduct Review Board through the Office of Student Affairs as outlined in the student handbook under "Social Discipline."