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Statement on Civility and Responsibility in an Academic Community

Vassar College is dedicated to freedom of inquiry in the pursuit of truth, and is vigilant in defending the right of individuals to free speech.  The College, however, is also a community dedicated to the cultivation of an atmosphere in which all of its members may live and work free from intolerance, disrespect or harassment.  The College, therefore, defends free speech and also embraces the principle of civil discourse.  In this regard, members of the College community accept constraints, similar to those of parliamentary debate against personal attacks or courts of law against the use of inflammatory language.  Under the rule of civility, individuals within the community are expected to behave reasonably, use speech responsibly, and respect the rights of others.  Genuine freedom of mind is not possible in the absence of civility.

As a private institution, Vassar is a voluntary association of persons invited to membership on the understanding that they will respect the principles by which it is governed.  Because Vassar is a residential college, and because it seeks diversity in its membership, individuals have a particular obligation beyond that of society at large to exercise self-restraint, tolerance for difference, and regard for the rights and sensitivities of others.  When individuals violate their obligation to the community, such as through the denigration of groups within the College, it is not simply a matter for those particular groups, but it offends the sensibilities of the entire community.  The strength and health of the College rests on the affirmation by all of its members of these principles of freedom with responsibility, and respect for others.
(Approved by the faculty February 25, 1987)