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University Leaders Explore Healthy Ways for Students to Peacefully Protest in Response to Controversial Campus Events

Dr. Fred P. Pestello, president of Saint Louis University, discusses the balance between freedom of speech and peaceful protesting on college campuses in the fifth installment of the President to President series

GAITHERSBURG, Md., February 16, 2017. In the latest chapter of the President to President series, published today, Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D., president of Saint Louis University in Missouri, describes the impact of peaceful student protests in a time of political and social tension.  

Titled “Lessons in Leadership: How a Silent Student Protest Inculcated University Values,” the article chronicles a controversial campus speaker’s impact on Saint Louis University. When a student group invited Lt. Col. Allen West to appear on campus, controversy erupted over West’s beliefs regarding Muslim students. Many members of the campus community expressed frustration that West would be allowed to speak on campus. Muslim students felt attacked and unsafe, and the students sponsoring the event felt their freedom of speech was being infringed upon. Campus administrators’ empathetic approach, which included open discussion with parties from both sides of the issue, helped students understand the University’s decision to let West present despite the uproar.

During West’s appearance, Muslim students and those sympathetic to their views staged a silent protest in the auditorium. It was a peaceful way to express dissent and show solidarity, and it helped heal some of the divisiveness that was threatening the campus community. Pestello expresses pride at how his students handled the situation, noting how they embodied the University’s mission and values.

The article is part of the 2016-2017 President to President series, published by Sodexo, world leader in Quality of Life services. The series is written by university presidents for university presidents and focuses on how institutions are developing innovative campus strategies that ensure positive business outcomes while enhancing the student experience.

Each month, a new chapter of President to President is authored by a notable leader in higher education whose institution is at the forefront of pioneering viewpoints and practices. Sodexo provides publishing support but exerts no editorial influence over the series. Chapters are distributed and promoted electronically and posted on president2president.com. At the end of the ten-part series, all content will be published into a thought-provoking collection and made available online.

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