Harvard Medical School is committed to a diversity of views and to principles of free inquiry and expression, consistent with the HMS Mission and Community Values. All members of the Harvard community have the right to hold and vigorously defend and promote their opinions. Ultimately, HMS seeks not to negate, overlook, deny or simply tolerate the qualities that distinguish us but aspires to understand, recognize, appreciate, and indeed, celebrate our differences.

These qualities require HMS to emphasize certain values which are essential to its nature as an academic community. Among these are freedom of speech; freedom of movement; freedom from personal intimidation, force and violence; and freedom from hate speech, which is “any form of expression through which speakers intend to vilify, humiliate or incite hatred against a group or a class of persons on the basis of race, religion, skin color, sexual identity, gender identity, ethnicity, disability or national origin.” Interference with any of these freedoms must be regarded as a serious violation of the personal rights upon which the community is based.

These values imply certain rights and responsibilities for all who attend and participate in HMS lectures, seminars, presentations or demonstrations that are held publicly, privately or virtually.

General principles

The right to speak and the right to dissent contribute to the value of academic discourse. The speaker is entitled to communicate their message to the audience during their allotted time, and the audience is entitled to hear the message and see the speaker during that time. A dissenter must not substantially interfere with a speaker’s ability to communicate or the ability of any audience member to see and hear the speaker.

Public versus private events

The organizer of an event will determine the venue and whether the event is open to the public, open to members of the Harvard community, or limited to invited or authorized individuals. The sponsoring organization or HMS administration may require attendees to produce identification, so long as the following criteria are met:

  • Advance notice is given as to what specific types of ID will be required.
  • Identification procedures are enforced consistently and uniformly.

When an event is private, dissent by non-attendees is limited to activity outside the event that does not impede access to the event or substantially interfere with the communication inside. When an event is public, the acceptable form of dissent will depend on whether the dissenter is inside or outside the event and on whether the dissenter is acting before, during or after the event.

Picketing and distributing of literature

Picketing or distributing literature outside the event is acceptable unless it impedes access to or egress from the event. Distributing literature inside an open event is acceptable before the event is called to order and after the event is adjourned.

Silent or symbolic protest

No protest should interfere with the audience’s view or prevent the audience from paying attention to the speaker. Any use of signs, prolonged standing, or other activity likely to block the view of anyone in the audience should be confined to the back of the room.


Responding vocally to the speaker, spontaneously and temporarily, is generally acceptable. Chanting or making other sustained or repeated noise in a manner which substantially interferes with the speaker’s communication is not permitted, whether inside or outside the event.

Force or violence

Threatening or using force or violence is never permitted.


If you are planning an event and would like guidance or assistance in meeting these guidelines, please contact:

HMS Office of Communications and External Relations: communications@hms.harvard.edu

HMS Security: security@hms.harvard.edu

HMS Room Scheduling: room_scheduling@hms.harvard.edu

Available tools

A slide outlining “rules of the road” and setting the tone for a mutually supportive community is available for download to display on the screen at the beginning of your event. A thumbnail of the slide is included below.

rules of the road slide image

Slide Text: HMS is a Mutually-Supportive Community: Rules of the Road

  • Remember that we are all human—Nobody is perfect and we are all learning.
  • Include everyone in the conversation—Look around and invite others in.
  • Words matter—They can hurt and heal, so use them thoughtfully.
  • Be respectful when speaking and listening—It’s about the position, not the person.
  • Empathy is part of understanding—Put yourself in their place.
  • Recognize the difference between evidence and opinion—Each is important, but they are not interchangeable.
  • Be open-minded—Consider alternatives.

Universities, including Harvard, stand for freedom, even when it is uncomfortable.

Download widescreen Rules of the Road slide for PowerPoint

Download 4:3 Rules of the Road slide for PowerPoint