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Faculty, staff volunteers sought as Open Expression Observers

Emory Report | June 6, 2016

Emory Campus Life seeks faculty and staff volunteers to serve as Open Expression Observers who will attend events, meetings and protests to assure the right to open expression is protected.

Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis, but potential volunteers should apply online by June 24 in order to participate in training by the beginning of the fall semester, according to Michael Shutt, Campus Life senior director for community.

The Open Expression Observers program stems from Emory's Respect for Open Expression Policy, which was implemented in 2013 to affirm the University's commitment to open expression while acknowledging the challenges and tensions these actions could create in an ever-changing community.

After beginning the Open Expression Observers program with a small group of volunteers, Campus Life now hopes to recruit participants from every school in the University.

"What this is all about is how we build a community and how we interact with each other as a community," Shutt says. "This process started three years ago, and as we have been testing the policy and figuring out ways to improve the system, we decided that we need to have as many people involved as possible, because it is about all of us."

Far from silencing protesters, the role of observers is to promote the right to dissent and help participants understand how to get their messages across without creating safety risks or disrupting other people's rights of open expression.

For example, observers might direct dissenters to move their protest to avoid blocking a building's fire exit or to put up their own signs rather than defacing the signs of others with whom they disagree.

Having a broad group of observers from across the University will help build trust because observers can be assigned to events related to their own schools, where they may already know the people involved, Shutt explains, noting that this community interaction will be more effective than simply sending administrators to each event.

"Students and community members may have the idea that if an administrator is involved, their involvement is to shut things down, and that is the opposite of what we are trying to do," he explains. "It is about building relationships."

To be considered, applicants must:

  • Hold a full-time faculty or staff appointment;
  • Attend a comprehensive training;
  • Promote the ideals of free expression in the Emory community;
  • Attend and observe events on various occasions throughout the year;
  • Commit to serve a two-year term as an Open Expression Observer.

Open Expression Observers may be requested for events or assigned by Campus Life to attend. A minimum of two observers will be sent to an event, and volunteers should expect to be called on about two times per semester, Shutt says.

Their charge is to:

  • Protect the rights of the community members to express their opinions in non-disruptive ways;
  • Serve as resources to community members regarding the policy and policy violations;
  • Act as liaisons between community members and Emory Police and/or University administrators;
  • Protect the right of community members to pursue their day-to-day activities;
  • Provide information on how to avoid violating the policy.

For questions about serving in this role, contact Shutt at mshutt@emory.edu or 404-727-2136.