Seeking clarity in protest policy: Students deserve input, clearer guidelines

Opinions Desk

In a Sept. 5 email, Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom notified students of revised and updated policies for campus protest, postings and speakers, citing the administration’s desire to be “as clear and transparent as possible in describing [its] policies around freedom of expression.” While we at the Record appreciate these efforts in increased clarity, we believe the lack of student input in developing these policies, the ambivalent language of the policies themselves and the potential chilling effect of threatened disciplinary action alongside this vagueness all pose serious concerns to student activism at the College.

In drafting and releasing these policies, administrators failed to consult with student groups or student leaders prior to publishing these policies in any capacity. Insofar as it is students who primarily stand to be affected by these guidelines, it seems only right that our voices should have been taken into consideration during the revision of this new policy, especially in light of the various on-campus protests which took place last year, such as the “March for the Damned.”

Not only do we believe students should have been consulted in discussions over these policies, but the language contained within the new policy itself strikes us as vague, ambiguous and overbroad. The guideline that states, “Protests may not prevent, unduly obstruct, or interfere with the normal academic, administrative, or programmatic operations of the college” seems particularly unhelpful, especially when considering the notion that the success of a protest might very well be dependent on the extent to which it was able to interfere in College operations — the 1969 occupation of Hopkins Hall is just one such example of this. What constitutes an acceptable degree of interference? Who is responsible for determining if an obstruction is undue?

We believe the ambiguity of the new protest policy’s language essentially leaves decisions regarding the permissibility of various protests to the discretion of the administration. More concrete standards for assessing the permissibility of student protests would be much appreciated, as well as clarity regarding the administrative body or figure responsible for making such determinations. 

Finally, we are concerned that the policy’s invocation of the College’s disciplinary process — “Violation of these policies will result in disciplinary processes” — will have a chilling effect on student free expression without further clarification about what constitutes a policy violation, who will determine that violation and what those disciplinary consequences might be. Not only do students have the right to be informed about the potential punitive measures that they may be subject to if they do choose to protest, but it also seems that the vagueness of this stipulation might dissuade student activists from engaging in protests for fear of some unknown disciplinary action on the part of the College administration. 

Thus, insofar as the new campus protest policy was created and approved in the absence of student voices, and the language of said policy is exceedingly vague, we at the Record urge the College administration to reconsider taking action to further revise the policy for clarity, formally taking student voices into account this time around.

The editorial represents the opinion of the majority of the Record’s editorial board.