A University of Arizona forum on civility and free speech will bring together representatives from the city, the university and several religious communities.
Although the UA has often hosted discussions on these topics, separate incidents last year targeting the Islamic Center of Tucson, 901 E. First St., and several Jewish students sparked this year’s panel.
Panelists include Kathy Adams Riester, the UA’s associate dean of students; Toni Massaro, former dean of the UA’s James E. Rogers College of Law and a Regents’ Professor who holds the Milton O. Riepe Chair in Constitutional Law; former U.S. Rep. Ron Barber of the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding; Rabbi Samuel Cohon of Temple Emanu-El; and Kamel Didan, the former vice chairman of the Islamic Center’s board of trustees. City Councilman Steve Kozachik will moderate.
“When we have done First Amendment and civility events in the past, it has been campus-focused and initiated by people on campus,” Riester said. This panel brings a community perspective, she added.
The panel comes after a conflict between the Islamic Center and the surrounding high-rise student apartments, with student residents throwing liquor bottles and other objects from balconies and shouting at passers-by. In an unrelated incident last year, members of the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon barged into an apartment and harassed the Jewish students inside, the Star reported.
Meetings including apartment managers, neighborhood representatives such as the Campus Community Relations Committee, the Tucson Police Department, the university, the Islamic Center and Kozachik have led to the improvement of the situation by requiring greater accountability from student residents.
The most recent meeting earlier this month was positive. “We patted each other on the backs,” Didan said.
Kozachik sees this forum on free speech as an extension of that progress.
“When you talk about speech, it could be from the desecration of someone’s holy book to burning a flag to handing out KKK fliers,” he said. “The discussion will be, ‘How do we embrace what we stand for in this country in terms of speech and freedoms, versus propriety?’”
Massaro added that with new students coming each year, this has to be an annual discussion.
“There are always issues where people feel vulnerable to particularly offensive or vulgar and degrading speech,” she said. “It’s always a tough balance between our interest in allowing that weighed against the person’s protection.”
Contact reporter Johanna Willett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4357. On Twitter: @JohannaWillett