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Loyola revises rules for on-campus demonstrations

Students held a march in early December protesting race-based violence. The demonstration, which started at Madonna della Strada chapel, followed what were then Loyola’s policies. Photo by Grace Runkel // The PHOENIX.

An updated on-campus demonstration policy rolled out at Loyola University on Jan. 26.

Sent to the university community via email, the revised policy is part of Loyola’s Community Standards.

“At the beginning of each semester, we circulate the Community Standards, which contain the Student Code of Conduct, to remind all new and returning students of the behavioral expectations at Loyola,” said the email, signed by Loyola’s Vice President for Student Development Jane Neufeld.

The revised policy made changes to Loyola’s definition of “demonstration,” its advance notification policy and the area where this policies are in effect. It also defined what the university considers disruptive, and added a clause that exempts prayer services and vigils from parts of the policy.

Revisions to the policy came after Loyola’s student government (SGLC) and representatives from the university’s Campus Activities Network expressed concern about the time frame students had to notify about a potential demonstration on campus, according to Kenechukwu “K.C” Mmeje, Loyola’s assistant vice president for student life.

“Students raised reasonable concerns,” Mmeje said, explaining that representatives from several university departments met over a few weeks in January to address the demonstration policy.

He mentioned that student organizations were mostly worried about the advance notice policy that prevented students from holding spontaneous demonstrations.

Although the revised policy made changes to the advance notification procedures, which require demonstration organizers to submit a permission form before the demonstration takes place, spontaneous demonstrations are still not allowed at Loyola.

Under the revised policy, organizers are required to notify the university about their demonstration at least three days before it’s scheduled to take place, as opposed to the 10 days the previous policy required. Organizations must submit a form exhaustively explaining the nature of the demonstration and its time and place.

The reduction in the time to notify the university would make staging a demonstration easier, said SGLC President Flavio Bravo, adding that he hopes this Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 9.37.55 AMcreates  “a culture on campus where students feel empowered to express their thoughts.”

But professor Bastiaan Vanacker, who teaches media law and ethics at Loyola’s School of Communication, presents a different side to the argument, saying that the notification policy, the required form and the vagueness of some aspects of the demonstration policy could cause a chilling of speech on campus.

“This is censorship,” said Vanacker. “If you have to get permission and it doesn’t stipulate in what criteria, [the policy] will chill speech.

“A lot of people who want to engage in speech would be discouraged –– that’s really unfortunate,” he added, saying that he doesn’t think there’s a suppression of ideas at Loyola, but that the vagueness of the policy can be problematic.

Vanacker, whose media law class extensively explores First Amendment rights, also explained that although Loyola is a private institution and is not required to follow the same First Amendment rules public institutions are, the extent of Loyola’s policy and its vagueness could be perceived as “too restrictive.”

“You come to Loyola and you leave some First Amendment values at the door, but as an institution of higher learning, one would think that [the university] would familiarize students with what it is like outside of Loyola,” said Vanacker.

“This is a very heavy-handed approach for something that is not even a problem here,” he added, saying that the policy has the potential to show a distrust for students.

The new policy also stresses that it is only valid for “on-campus” demonstrations. The definition of on-campus, however, is not specified in the policy, and the university reserves the right to dictate the “time, place and manner” of the demonstration, Mmeje said.

This means that, for instance, a protest taking place on Sheridan Road, a public way in the city, would still be considered “on-campus” and be subject to the demonstration policy, said Mmeje, explaining that that street is still considered to be within the university perimeter.

As in the previous policy, demonstrations must still be confined to Loyola’s Damen Student Center at Lake Shore Campus, and to the Terry Student Center at Water Tower Campus.

Mmeje said that students wishing to hold a demonstration somewhere else on campus must discuss the situation with Loyola’s administration. Demonstrations inside university buildings other than the student centers are prohibited, as they are considered “disruptive.”

“I don’t get that from reading [the policy] –– that’s extra,” Vanacker said, explaining that nowhere in the policy does it mention that students could ask to demonstrate somewhere other than the student centers on campus. “This [policy] seems to say that if it’s not at the centers it cannot take place. Why have guidelines if you still need to ask?”

Other Jesuit institutions, such as Fordham University in New York and Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, also request the university be notified about the demonstration before it takes place. Demonstration policies in these schools, however, do not mention the need to submit a form, nor do they confine demonstrations to specific buildings.

Boston College, another Jesuit institution, requires students to apply for a permit 48 hours before the demonstration takes place. Just last December, a group of 60 students were subject to disciplinary action for failing to wait for their permit to be approved, according to a Dec. 20 report in the Boston Globe.

Like Loyola, Boston College’s demonstration policy stipulates that the university reserves the right to determine the time and place of any public demonstration.

Marquette University, a fellow Jesuit institution, does not require organizers to notify the university about their demonstrations in advance, as long as they do not interfere with the university’s scheduled activities. Neither does neighboring DePaul University, which only asks that demonstrators do not disrupt scheduled activities or use the university’s name or logo.

St. Louis University  — where a sit-in demonstration protesting race-based violence in nearby Ferguson, Missouri, took place last semester –– does not cite any specific demonstration policy on its student handbook, available online.

None of these universities have a demonstration policy as extensive as Loyola’s written on their community standards available online. Demonstrations are also now defined at Loyola as “a gathering of two or more people who publically [sic] express a position or feeling toward a person or cause.” This means that if a group of students get together and actively engage others in discussing an issue, the university considers this to be a demonstration and thus would make it subject to the demonstration policy outlined in Loyola’s Community Standards.

All gatherings are subject to this scrutiny, including the required advance notification, with the exception of “impromptu prayer services and vigils” that, although they still need to submit notification forms, are not required to do so within the policy’s time frame. For a gathering to be considered a vigil, though, it needs to be sponsored by Campus Ministry.

“This [policy] ensures the safety of the participant and helps the university organize resources and provide support,” Mmje said.

None of the universities mentioned before give a special exception to vigils and prayer services, like Loyola does.

For Vanacker, Loyola’s pre-approval process and the vagueness of the definitions stated in the policy –– specially what constitutes a demonstration and what can be considered to be “on-campus” –– can be problematic.

“This fosters a situation where free speech cannot flourish,” he said. “As a place of education, I think the First Amendment values should inspire guidelines, and these are not [inspired by them].”

Although he says the university as a private institution has the right to promote policies such as this one, the goal is to find a balance between protecting and restricting.

“It’s a difficult balance,” Vanacker said.

The demonstration policy can still be amended, according to Mmeje, who said that if the Loyola community finds the policy too confusing or not clear enough to be carried out, it can still be tweaked over the summer.

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