East Carolina University chancellor Cecil Staton has released a new statement Thursday regarding the marching band’s national anthem protest and the response to those protests. His statement is below:

Dear Students,

It is an honor and a privilege to serve as the chancellor of your university. This is a challenging, but wonderful time to lead ECU.

In the past week our campus has been experiencing – in a very public, yet also personal way – something that campuses and communities across our country are struggling with: balancing the desire of individuals and groups to express themselves, and the obligation we as a university have to provide a safe and secure environment for everyone on our campus. As your chancellor, I have the responsibility to hold these two priorities together, even when in tension.

To our students, let me be perfectly clear: you have the right to express yourselves peacefully and responsibly, and the right to expect to do so without fear of intimidation or violence. I will not tolerate the mistreatment of any student, and anyone who perpetrates such mistreatment will be dealt with swiftly.

However, when necessary, I will also ensure that public safety is preserved and maintained for the benefit of all who are a part of our campus. The university has a responsibility, if necessary, to place reasonable constraints on the time, the place and the manner of expression or conduct, but within those constraints, the university respects and will defend that right.

We are an imperfect campus in an imperfect society. We know we must work harder on issues of equality and social justice, and I am proud that we have many ways to facilitate discourse in an intelligent, safe and responsible manner. I applaud these efforts and stand with you in your efforts to effect meaningful change.

As a university, we respect the First Amendment, and we encourage the open, even passionate discourse of the issues that are important to our students and faculty. It is also important to acknowledge the deep relationship our university has with the military and the men and women who serve and have served. We share a mission of service, and each day on our campus we appreciate the people who live that mission. It is because of their commitment to our country that we as citizens have the right to express ourselves.

East Carolina has a long and very proud history of tackling some of our society’s most challenging issues, from preparing doctors and dentists who practice in our state’s underserved communities to preparing teachers who shape the future in hard-to-fill rural classrooms. Whether it is civil rights, women’s issues, war and military actions, ECU has encouraged the members of our campus community to express their opinions and perspectives in an intelligent, responsible and peaceful way. After all, if these conversations can’t happen on the campus of an American university, where can they?

Our students and faculty represent the best of what diversity – in terms of ethnic background, political affiliation, nationality, sexual identification – can bring to an institution of higher learning. We all benefit from the shared perspectives and experiences of others, whether we agree with them or not. A fundamental element of our core mission is to reflect a global workplace and society and to prepare students to succeed in varied and changing cultures.

Challenges will always be here. That’s a good thing; they make us stronger and wiser. Whenever we are faced with challenges, we must come together, rationally, peacefully and thoughtfully, to work towards resolution and mutual respect. We will not always agree with one another – in fact, we shouldn’t – but we must always be willing to come together, rise to be our best selves, and demonstrate what makes ECU the remarkable community we love.

So I’m asking everyone who is a part of East Carolina University – students, faculty, staff, administrators and our alumni and supporters – to join together in an effort to resolve our differences peacefully, respect the rights of others to express themselves peacefully, and work to find common ground that continues to strengthen ECU. We will continue to experience tension between the desire for expression and the obligation as a university to provide a safe and secure environment. Balancing that tension will continue to be an important part of our responsibility as we prepare our future leaders to embrace a complex and challenging world with dignity and integrity.

Cecil Staton