Freedom of Expression in the classroom for faculty

PCC is a place where students come to learn and grow. Our community is diverse and vibrant. Our students and faculty bring a myriad of experiences, opinions, beliefs, and skills to our classrooms. PCC students are passionate about their community and their world. This engagement, passion, and diversity is our greatest strength.

An essential part of the college experience is exposure to ideas that challenge a student’s understanding of the world and encourage them to think critically. Managing conversations in which students express diverse, and sometimes offensive, ideas can be challenging. Faculty cannot tolerate harassment or other violations of the PCC Code of Conduct in the classroom, and at the same time, faculty cannot stop students from expressing ideas because those ideas are unpopular, offensive or contrary to PCC’s values.

Following are guidelines for PCC classrooms. Please note that this guidance applies to both in-person and virtual classes.

  • Students are expected to act in a respectful, non-disruptive manner in PCC classes. At all times, students and faculty should act with courtesy and respect toward others, even those who express opinions with which they disagree.
  • PCC’s Student Conduct Code is in effect during both in-person and virtual instruction. Students must conduct themselves in a non-disruptive manner and adhere to the Student Conduct Code’s policies prohibiting bullying, intimidating, threatening, or disruptive behavior.
  • In general, student discussion during class should focus on course content and students should refrain from discussing topics unrelated to the curriculum. On occasion, and at the discretion of the instructor, it may be appropriate to dedicate limited class time to topics that are not directly related to the curriculum. This could be related to specific current events or to respond to a topic raised by a student that warrants some discussion. Such discussion must remain respectful. Please see Resources for Faculty for guidance on facilitating respectful dialogue.
  • Students may bring diverse views to class discussions. In an educational environment, students may be exposed to ideas with which they disagree and may find offensive, and students have the right to express ideas related to classroom discussions that others may not agree with. At the same time, students must refrain from speech (written or oral) that violates PCC policies, including speech that is constitutes harassment or is threatening or incites violence. For more information, please refer to the Student Code of Conduct. Please also review the information in the accompanying Freedom of Expression FAQ.
  • While PCC cannot prevent offensive speech protected by the First Amendment, PCC recognizes that some speech can cause harm to other students. PCC values all students and strongly affirms the right of all students to have a safe and supportive learning environment. PCC provides supports and options for students impacted by offensive speech. See resources to support students impacted by offensive speech, or contact
  • In a virtual classroom, faculty and students should take steps to ensure that any part of their virtual setting that is visible or audible to others presents a professional and appropriate learning environment. Virtual settings should be free from excessive distractions and cannot contain content that would violate PCC’s Student Conduct Code. PCC understands that it is not always possible to avoid background content noise related to the home environment, such as family members, roommates, or pets.
  • When moderating online class discussion forums, instructors or other moderators should be thoughtful when removing posts because they violate college policy, or because they are not responsive to the assignment, not because a student is voicing an unpopular, or offensive opinion.
  • Any individual who believes that they are the subject of abuse or harassment should contact the Office of Equity and Inclusion for more information. Similarly, if any individual encounters speech shared online that is bullying or threatening towards another individual or raises concerns about personal safety, please contact Public Safety.

Decision flowchart

Free expression in the classroom flowchart text alternative

Student makes a comment in class that may be upsetting or offensive to you or others. It’s your classroom and the students are looking to you to address the concern and facilitate an opening and welcoming learning environment.

Take a breath. Even when our own emotions are triggered by speech, these moments are often teaching and learning opportunities. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help determine if the comment potentially violates PCC Policy.

  • Is it a general idea or opinion (could be an idea or opinion about anything)?
  • Is it causing a substantial disruption in the class?
    • If yes, it’s likely not a violation of policy, but consider:
      • Was the comment severely offensive or harassing (like racial or ethnic slurs, profanity laced, or otherwise highly inappropriate for a classroom environment)?
      • Is the behavior ongoing and/or continuing?
        • If no, it’s likely not a violation of policy.
        • If yes, it is potentially a violation of policy.
  • Is it targeted at another person?
  • Is it threatening harm or a risk to safety?
    • If no, it’s likely not a violation of policy.
    • If yes, it is potentially a violation of policy.
Likely not a violation of policy

Consider the following to respond to the harmful or offensive comments:

If the comment is relevant to the topic of instruction

  • guide students in a civil discussion of various viewpoints
  • ask students to explore the expressed idea, included what makes it offensive
  • reaffirm PCC values and appropriate classroom conduct

If the comment is not relevant to the topic of instruction

  • redirect students back to topic or
  • engage students in brief, guided discussion of the underlying issue if appropriate.

Request help or guidance from

Potentially a violation of policy

Consider the following if the comment is potentially a violation of PCC policy:

To address the student engaging in the conduct, consider the following:

  • Direct the student to stop any further targeted or threatening comments.
  • Contact Conduct & Care and/or file a CARE Report
    • If there is an emergency, or immediate threat to safety contact Public Safety at ext. 4444, or 971-722-4444
    • Consult your supervisor, Conduct & Care, or the Office of Equity and Inclusion before taking action that could be considered disciplinary

To address the harm to your class, consider the following to acknowledge the comment was hurtful:

  • Reaffirm PCC values and appropriate classroom conduct
  • Engage the classroom in a brief, guided discussion of underlying issue if appropriate
  • Follow up with directly involved students after class
    • Refer impacted students to resources