Skip to content

Through civil debate, we can tackle difficult issues (Updated)

Every day on our campuses, we debate societal issues with civility, intelligence and passion — it’s the hallmark of our mission as educators and learners. It is also one of our essential contributions to our democracy, as we uphold and promote the ideals and constitutional rights of freedom of expression through our work as a public university.

Upholding these ideals is not easy. It can be costly. It can be dangerous. In January 2017, a man was shot and critically injured on Red Square. This was a devastating and difficult time for many in our community, who sought to organize and engage in that event peacefully, only to have it end in violence. Rather than serving as a platform for engaging in constructive debate, it demonstrated that there are organizations outside our university who seek to use public university campuses and our commitment to public discourse as a vehicle and opportunity to provoke and incite others, including by committing acts of violence.

You may have seen news reports about an event scheduled this Saturday on Red Square featuring the group Patriot Prayer. Campus leadership and the UW Police Department have worked with the sponsoring club for the past month to maintain a safe environment for this event, which has the potential to draw as many as 1,000 people.

This week, UWPD obtained credible information that groups from outside the UW community are planning to join the event with the intent to instigate violence. For the safety of campus visitors and others not associated with the events, several organizations have cancelled or postponed their campus events that day and access to Red Square will be limited. Your safety is important to us and we are taking precautions to ensure the Patriot Prayer event unfolds as peacefully as possible. However, I encourage you to avoid Red Square, and the surrounding area from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday to ensure your own personal safety.

At this moment in our country where so much divides us, I continue to believe that together, UW students, faculty, staff and alumni can tackle the difficult issues that we face as we strive to become a more inclusive and diverse community. Let’s take care of one another.

UPDATE – 4:06 p.m., 2/9/18:

There have been questions regarding why the event is being allowed to continue if there is credible information that outside groups are planning to join the event with the intent to instigate violence. Law enforcement officials advised me that protecting the safety of the community would actually become more difficult if the event was cancelled because these groups would likely still come to our campus. We will, of course, continue to monitor this situation closely and take appropriate actions as conditions warrant.