At an Upper School assembly on Feb. 24, Head of School Dominic A.A. Randolph presented the “Riverdale Statement On Campus Discourse,” a document that defines the school’s expectations regarding the exchange of ideas in the classroom and in the larger community.
“This is not something that any of us can afford to take lightly,” Randolph told the students. “Who we are as a community, the very way we speak to one another and disagree with one another and listen to one another is in this document.”
As a vibrant and diverse community, where people learn through open and honest discussion, Riverdale strives to be a place where everyone feels a sense of belonging. It is a culture where disagreement is respected and hate speech is not tolerated.
“The overall tone of our work here is to have an “ethos of care” for each other,” Randolph said. “It is everyone’s job in this school to make good dialogue and discourse possible not only for oneself but for others.”
The policy states:
- As a school, our priority is to foster discourse that leads to learning. At Riverdale, students develop social, emotional, and intellectual skills that enable them to build relationships and collaborate in the service of learning.
- Students grow in knowledge and character when they grapple with the reality of difference. In our diverse community, open discourse helps us cultivate empathy for one another and understand views that are different from our own.
- Campus discourse thrives when everyone in our community feels a sense of belonging. At Riverdale, community members and invited guests may not engage in abusive or hateful speech that undermines our efforts to foster an equitable, diverse, and inclusive learning environment.
- Riverdale students learn that arguments that challenge or threaten their interests or values are not necessarily hateful arguments. The school welcomes legitimate political speech that might affirm or critique specific beliefs or actions and the activists, voters, and politicians who support those beliefs or actions.
- Intellectually rich, open discourse is not a right; it is a collective achievement made possible by our relationships with one another.
- By virtue of the education they receive here, Riverdale graduates should be able to investigate and understand beliefs that they do not hold, to critique and construct their own points of view, and to participate humanely and constructively in dialogue with others.
The document, and a related guide containing teaching and learning resources, are the culmination of two years of discussions among Riverdale faculty, students, and others led by Randolph, Upper School Head Kelley Nicholson-Flynn, Blair Parker, a history teacher and assistant head of the Upper School, and Darius Weil, a teacher of history and Integrated Liberal Studies.
Randolph, Parker, and Weil were among a group of Riverdale students and teachers who attended a conference organized by the University of Chicago in the fall that focused on discourse in high schools. Randolph noted that while the University of Chicago and other colleges and universities have developed statements around campus discourse, Riverdale may be the first independent school to develop such a framework.
In a letter to parents, Randolph noted: “Like many universities, we create a scholarly environment in which students and teachers can freely exchange ideas, but we also aim to do more than that. We are committed to creating a community in which people express themselves responsibly and inspire one another to express themselves in good ways.”
Riverdale is developing appropriately aligned statements for the Middle and Lower Schools.