Office of the President
Message from President Michael T. Benson
Events of this Past Week
February 20, 2022
Dear Coastal Carolina University faculty, staff, and students:
On Wednesday I had the opportunity to attend a ceremony celebrating a significant gift to the Center for Civil Rights History and Research at the University of South Carolina. Two of the speakers used the same quote in their remarks: “History has no purpose unless you use it.” Never was so much said about the role of history in so few words.
Given the current debates around what should or should not be taught in schools, the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education released this statement (Click Here for Statement) last week. Coastal Carolina University was one of the first signatories of this document, reaffirming our commitment to academic freedom and integrity.
The events of the past week are now history and the onus falls squarely on us to use the lessons we have learned in being better and doing better. As an institution, we have the responsibility to regularly examine the practices, policies, and procedures currently in place—and to make changes when required in moments when events shine a bright light on how they might fall short. Now is one of those moments.
I am referencing an incident from last Monday involving a poster that was publicly displayed on bulletin boards around campus. This poster went through the prescribed process for approval and was subsequently signed off on after revisions were made, with a conclusion—per our current policy—that its content fell within the protected speech area of the First Amendment. As a public institution, we are duty-bound to ensure all voices are heard and everyone has the right to express their opinion. Voltaire (who’s classic satire Candide was banned well into the 20th century in this country) said it best: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
While the poster may have been deemed “protected speech,” its carefully-constructed use of certain words, an opinion-based indirect reference to critical race theory—and even an image of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with this quote: “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”—was created with a goal to incite. This is exactly what happened and we have heard from students since Monday evening what hurtful and damaging collateral impact this message has had on many within our campus community.
At a peaceful demonstration after our Board of Trustees meeting Friday, students of color expressed their profound disagreement with the poster’s content. When asked directly by students if he would take it down, the student who created the poster agreed to do so. He has reported the posters have now been removed.
I thank all the students who gathered in front of the Singleton Building on Friday to peacefully demonstrate and to engage in dialogue. However, we heard from them that the time for conversations—while very important and critical to our ongoing improvement as an institution—has come and gone. Now is the time for action.
In addressing the board of trustees Friday morning about the impact of this entire event on Coastal Carolina University, junior marketing major Tyrik Pierre cited the current policy that guides this poster approval process and what constitutes protected speech. University policies are regularly reviewed on a three-year cycle and the policy he referenced was last reviewed in August 2019. Our intent is to launch an immediate, thorough review of this policy with a view toward revising and improving it—and to ensure that an episode like this does not occur again.
Other policies will also be examined with a view to making them better, but this policy about approved posters will be the first one we address. We have given ourselves the deadline of March 4th—with input from all those campus constituencies interested in participating—in drafting a first revision.
Let me be clear: we are committed to creating an environment where every single student, faculty, and staff member feels welcomed, valued, and heard. We are also committed to ensuring that differing perspectives are expressed in an atmosphere that is respectful and civil—and absent of harm whether intended or not.
We have learned a valuable lesson this week that now propels us to act. We intend to address our shortcomings and to do better by our students and our larger campus community. To continue the conversation about critical race theory and other important topics, several organizations have come together to host a forum, “Discussion of the Erasure of Undeniable History” on February 28th at 5 p.m. in Johnson Auditorium.
Michael T. Benson