The Intersection between Freedom of Expression and DEI
Friday, April 7, 2023

I want to open today’s “Note” with a thought from Adam Grant, organizational psychologist, bestselling author, and professor at the Wharton School of Business.

“When someone offers feedback you don’t like, the ideal response isn’t to ignore it.  It’s to seek more perspectives.  One person’s reaction is an opinion.  If multiple people make the same point, it’s a pattern.  The best way to grow is to find the recurring signal in the noise.” Adam Grant

The intersection of our individual right to free expression and having a robust campus culture is what makes the University of Iowa the space where our students, faculty, and staff flourish.  It is only when we understand a diversity of viewpoints can we intelligently inform our own viewpoints.  This is why we come to the University of Iowa, why we want to learn new things, and how we work to find new solutions to our society’s problems or have breakthroughs in research.

This is what freedom of expression, and DEI in action look like. 

It is:

  • Learning BOTH the strengths and weaknesses of another’s argument.
  • Building a culture where all members can contribute to a conversation.
  • Understanding more than just one person’s opinion to learn where there are patterns of agreement.

It is not:

  • Speech including threats of violence or incitement.
  • Regulating offensive speech.  
  • Engaging in behavior that may physically harm others.

The First Amendment protects not only a speaker’s right to express their viewpoints but also the right of citizens, to peacefully assemble in protest. Prohibiting either is illegal.

Per university policy, student organizations may invite guest lecturers, panel participants, discussion leaders, or others from off-campus to speak or otherwise participate in campus programs. While the university has the authority to regulate the time, place, and manner of free speech, the limitations must be reasonable and not based on viewpoint or content. This means there may be speakers whose messaging does not align with the values of the university or that may be considered offensive. However, the university engages with multiple offices and takes proactive steps to ensure our campus is safe.   

While it is not the job of the institution to regulate free expression, it is our job to teach the skills of critical listening, and civility in our debate.  We know through our history that the more we understand each other, the better our actions are moving forward.  It is when we make uninformed decisions or speak without knowing all the facts that our actions can be misinterpreted.

We have more information about free speech and expression is available on the university’s Free Speech at Iowa webpage. 

If you are concerned about your personal safety, or the safety of someone you know, please contact us.

  • University Counseling Services: 319-335-7294
  • Student Care and Assistance: 319-335-1162
  • UI Department of Public Safety: 319-335-5022
  • Employee Assistance Program: 319-335-2085
  • Office of Institutional Equity: 319-335-0705

I want to leave you with one question to ponder as we work our way through this month. 

How can you be part of the solution? 

Whatever the problem you are facing, what questions can you ask to gain a better understanding, and be part of a solution to the challenges you face?

Let’s keep the conversation going.  Please feel free to reach out to me and talk about this subject or others.  As always, Go Hawks!


Liz Tovar
Executive Officer and Associate Vice President

Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion