“Fairfield University is committed to protecting the academic freedom of its faculty and the freedom of expression of all members of the University community. That commitment is reflected in the University’s policies on academic freedom and freedom of expression. Academic freedom and freedom of expression include the expression of ideas, controversial and otherwise, both within and outside the classroom and in keeping with different responsibilities within the workplace on campus. The policies on discrimination and harassment are to be applied in a manner that is balanced against, consistent, with, and protective of, the rights of academic freedom and freedom of expression of all parties to a complaint and as set forth in University policy.” (Student Handbook, p. 37-38)
Under both the First Amendment and the precedence of Content Neutrality, “The government cannot limit expression just because any listener, or even the majority of a community, is offended by its content. In the context of art and entertainment, this means tolerating some works that we might find offensive, insulting, outrageous” according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Although Fairfield is a private institution, our student handbook was drafted by attorneys appointed by faculty members on campus; it upholds our rights as not only citizens, but students. The student handbook supports our reality.
Children’s participation in the audience was the first concern that was brought forward, disapproving the poem. However, profanity was present throughout the night, not solely in the spoken-word performance by Crystal Rodriguez ’14. The argument made about children cannot be validated, as the event began at 8 p.m., and ended past 10 p.m., without a parental discretion advertisement. Among “Night at the Apollo,” another university event featured at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts, “Poetry for Peace,” has become an annual event for children in our community to express their identity and daily experiences. Fairfield University publishes the works of these young poets, from kindergarten through eighth grade, in which they write pieces that reflect their reality, as much as Rodriguez’s piece did. The historical roots of Apollo are to provide a space for the soul to explore reflection, vocation and healing, which at no point censors, or silences participants. The roots of a talent show, however, are not the same. Perhaps, the purpose of the event needs to be clarified?
Secondly, speaking out does not equate victimization. What the community did for Rodriguez was respond to cyclical and institutional violence that perpetuates silence. We – the voices of Fairfield University students – want to make clear that this was an organic decision and an act of solidarity.
According to the mission statement, “At Fairfield, we believe that no matter what’s going on in the world, more unites us than divides us.” The incident at “Night at the Apollo” divided our community; if we want a strong community, we must reflect on our mission of, according to the mission statement, “sharing common goals and a common commitment to truth and justice.” Rodriguez was following the mission and the student handbook, freely expressing herself, regardless of controversy, reflected upon her religious experience and values, “evaluat[ed her] knowledge, identif[ied] issues, use[d] appropriate methods of reasoning and [conveyed] conclusions … in written and spoken word,” as stated in the mission statement.
Where can there exist a “Safe Space” if it is declared that there is no room for expression? According to the mission statement, the “Society of Jesus, is a coeducational institution of higher learning whose primary objectives are to develop the creative intellectual potential of its students and to foster in them ethical and religious values and a sense of social responsibility. The liberally educated person is able to assimilate and organize facts, to evaluate knowledge, to identify issues, to use appropriate methods of reasoning and to convey conclusions persuasively in written and spoken word.” Featured in the Non-Discrimination and Harassment Act, Fairfield University “values and celebrates the diverse backgrounds, cultures, experiences, and perspectives of our community. Through the promotion and protection of diversity, the Fairfield University community creates an environment where holistic development, academic excellence, and a commitment to well being of others can flourish. The university is committed to maintaining a diverse and multicultural community in which the dignity and worth of each of its members is respected. The university strongly condemns any unlawful or wrongful discrimination against the rights of others.” As students in solidarity with Rodriguez, we would just like to highlight the misconceptions and oppressive systems that took place over the course of the night.
We want to extend a thank you to the Office of Residence Life, Diversity Office, University Activities, Media Center, Campus Ministry, the Apollo Night Committee, volunteers, hosts and all the performers. Without you, this collective consciousness could not have been possible.