College campuses buzz this week with new students

NC State is one of 17 UNC System schools starting the year with a new crop of students and new guidelines for free speech on campus

New and returning students come and go as Talley Student Union bustles with activity at NC State University on Aug. 8 in Raleigh. (Eamon Queeney / North State Journal)

RALEIGH — Excited to start a new chapter of their academic career, freshmen like Maddie Day of Raleigh will be lugging boxes and bags into dorms across NC State University’s campus Thursday in preparation for the first day of class.

“I’m very excited. It’s coming so fast,” Day said. “They told us to work on time management and get a routine that works for you, so when things get too hectic you don’t get overwhelmed.”

For Matthew Coombes, director of New Student Programs, it’s an exciting week, too. Tasked with lining up Freshmen Orientation, Coombes and his colleagues are the first impression students have of their college experience. Coombes said the entire campus kicks into high gear to welcome nearly 34,000 students to campus.

“It’s a lot of logistics and time, but we are looking at a university-wide effort,” said Coombes. “It’s a really energizing time as a campus. You have the new students and their families coming in, you have their energy, excitement … the university does a really good job of answering questions and ally fears while at the same time showing them what it means to be a member of our community.”

In July, North Carolina became the first state in the nation to enact a comprehensive campus free-speech law, called the Restore Campus Free Speech Act, based on a proposal designed at the Goldwater Institute. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest advocated for its passage through the Republican-led state legislature, which passed the bill 80-31 in the House and 34-11 in the Senate. It became law July 31 after Gov. Roy Cooper took no action on it.

In general, the law establishes that the UNC university system administrators should remain neutral on controversial issues to allow as much campus discussion as possible and to provide protection for all speech. It establishes a disciplinary process for “shout-downs” among students and anyone else who interferes with the free-speech rights of others. The law also prevents administrators from disinviting campus speakers who’ve been invited to speak by a student group, and requires formation of a committee within the UNC Board of Governors to establish free speech policies.

All will now also be a part of freshman orientation at N.C. universities, which have seen their share of sit-ins and threats against controversial speakers.

Coombes said NC State will start planning in the next month or two for next year and examine the legislation to make sure the program in 2018 meets the law’s requirements. For now, he says they already present students with what expectations are from members of the university community.

“Its going to be interesting to see how everything plays out as far as what the legislation says and what the UNC system says and what the expectations are,” he said. “But the reality is, whether it’s the federal government or the state government, we have things that need to be covered and we find a way to cover them in a way that fits our institution and meets the expectations of the legislation and represents who we are, and we will do that again with this.”

Day plans to study industrial engineering with a business or economics minor. She moves into the campus Women in Science and Engineering Village on Thursday.

“I’ll be surrounded by people who are like me, but different from me as well,” she said. “I’ll be able to study and learn and have good conversations; I’m really excited about that.”

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