Navigating Conflict as a Learning Community

Dear Members of the Campus Community, 

Over the past few weeks, members of our community, along with people in academic institutions across the world, have engaged in dialogue, panels and community conversations about the devastating conflict, unfolding humanitarian crisis and horrifying murder of civilians in Israel and Palestine. I join the call from Pope Francis and the Society of Jesus to pray for an immediate end to the killing of innocents and the suffering of Israelis and Palestinians. I continue to voice my support, alongside many in our community, for unconditional peace for all impacted by this ongoing destruction and loss of life. 

These moments of community conversation serve as powerful examples of who we are and what we do, even when we strongly disagree. First and foremost, we are a learning community marked by intellectual freedom and academic inquiry, and we are called to engage in critical examination and dialogue. Our Jesuit, Catholic identity offers a unique context and parameters for freedom of expression in a diverse community. When we speak up:

  • We demonstrate and support the dignity of all human beings, everywhere. 

  • We are committed to true inclusion, where all may participate and exercise full membership. 

  • We work for peace and nonviolence through our words and our deeds.

  • We assume good intentions, lead with curiosity and correct with love.   

With this freedom, our faculty engage within the norms and ethics appropriate for a professional scholarly community. How we treat one another matters. This has been a topic of discussion for some time at Holy Cross, and we will continue to engage in these conversations. As a learning community, we have several methods for coming together to effect change by:  

  • Discussing events and politics in Holy Cross classrooms and fostering open dialogue for students;

  • Hosting seminars, forums and events to learn about current issues and histories; and

  • Engaging and sharing in research, publications and creative work.

With concerning and growing examples of actions that can curtail civic discourse and limit speech across communities, let me be clear on two fronts: 

  1. As stated in our faculty statutes, we are strongly committed to the principles of academic freedom for faculty. 

  2. Consistent with College policies and applicable law, we affirm the right of students, faculty and staff to use their voice and speak to personal, political and professional matters and beliefs. At the same time, no individual member of our faculty or student body represents or makes statements on behalf of the College. 

Provost Elliott Visconsi will share a more detailed message on academic freedom and faculty speech later this week. Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to explain and defend this faculty right in correspondence with individuals who reached out to the College. I thought it would be helpful for our entire campus community to see what was shared (read the full message):

Individual professors do not speak for the College as an institution. However, our professors are all free members of society and people, like you and me, who have been shaped by their experiences and beliefs. They are entitled to the same freedom of speech and personal advocacy as all others in this nation. Furthermore, academic freedom is a foundational principle at Holy Cross and in higher education writ large. Even in cases where we disagree, we believe that freedom is paramount to healthy academic inquiry, and to the foundation of our democratic society.

I recognize that such discussions are not an academic exercise for many students, faculty and staff in our community, and that some face harsher and unjust consequences because of who they are and what they believe. Harassment and threats targeting community members have no place at Holy Cross. Together we can create an intellectual and moral community that welcomes and supports all of our members. As one step, our partnership with the Constructive Dialogue Institute will expand and deepen over the next two years. This initiative will support our community in building skills to engage across differences. 

In this particular moment, I want to voice my clear affirmation, support and recognition of the dignity, contributions and the unjust burden that this devastating conflict exacts on those who identify as Arab, Muslim, Jewish, Palestinian and Israeli. To our faculty, students and staff who come together to learn, question and engage: thank you. I look forward to strengthening our community through conversation together.


Vincent D. Rougeau