Staff Editorial

Policy update restricts demonstrations

The Loyola community marched in solidarity after the murder of student Mutahir Rauf. By contributing to the new Strategic Plan, students can continue to work for positive change on campus. Photo by Grace Runkel//Phoenix

As citizens of the United States, it can be easy to take freedom of speech for granted. At Loyola University Chicago, the concept of complete student freedom within Loyola walls  is diminished through school policies, as well as the administration’s reactions (or lack thereof) to any speech that students attempt to voice. Under the university roof, speech does not seem free — it seems regulated, silenced and disregarded.

Loyola’s Community Standards were updated as of Jan. 26 — specifically, Section 506 (titled “Free Expression and Demonstration Policy and Approval Process”), which holds guidelines for on-campus demonstrations and outlines the requirements for protests.

Loyola justified these updates as “clarification of terms and greater ease of registration process for demonstrations.”

While the university appears and claims to be making it easier to protest on campus, the new policy is actually doing the exact opposite.

One obvious change to the community standards was the actual definition of what is considered a demonstration. The new version expands the term to “a gathering of two or more people who publicly express a position or feeling toward a person or cause.” Previously, a demonstration was defined as “any organized or impromptu gathering of two or more people” that could be perceived as displaying feelings “toward a person or a cause.”

Other changes dealt with the process for Loyola students planning a protest or demonstration. Students who want to hold a demonstration must now submit a form to the university at least three days in advance. Previously, the form needed to be submitted 10 days in advance.

Amongst other smaller updates, it was also specified that demonstrations must take place within the Damen Student Center or the Terry Student Center, not in any other building on campus.

Changes are being made on paper, and The Phoenix Editorial Board appreciates the university’s efforts to promote and enable students to speak their minds more easily on campus. But there are two key issues here: One, why is it that students can only protest indoors at two university buildings? And two, even if students did protest, would their words really have any effect on the future?

We welcome the reduction of notification time, but the updates to the speech policy are still problematic and don’t promise real change.

First, by carefully defining what constitutes a demonstration, Loyola is saying that every time a group of people — even just two people — are vocal about an issue, that group of people would have to notify the university three days in advance in order to express their opinions. This means that meetings of people, perhaps a meeting as simple as handing out flyers on campus in a group of two or more people, would have to go through a process to demonstrate on campus.

Second, the new policy limits protesters to the university’s two student centers. This means that protests are confined by the space available in those buildings. How is this freedom of expression? How is this freedom of speech? These restraints are curtailing students’ rights to be heard and seen by people other than passersby in those specific buildings.

Third, the fact that students now have more time to notify about protests is nothing but a strawman’s win. We now have more time, but we have less space and fewer opportunities. Moreover, there’s still no guarantee that our demonstrations will get anything from Loyola administration.

In a way, it seems that these updates are part of an effort for Loyola to seem interested in what students have to say, but the school almost never does anything with actual student opinions in mind. This trend can be seen through past occurrences, such as the closing of  Terry Food Court downtown and the closing of Southside Market on Lake Shore campus.

In an online student survey conducted by The Phoenix last November, 88 percent of respondents felt that their input was not valued by the university. So where are the protestors?

It is a new year, and with a new year, there are new challenges. The university will inevitably see problems arise in the future, and perhaps these policies will finally have the dust wiped off of them by a large group of active students insistent on fighting for their rights — but it’s been a while since that has happened.

The last notable protest to take place was about student meal plans for the 2013-2014 year.

The entire demonstration consisted of about 50 people who were “tired of being bullied,” fighting against the new meal plans, which were significantly more expensive.

Organizers of this protest had publicly voiced the difficulties about the process of getting the protest approved. Other complaints included the prohibition of using a megaphone during the protest and the unwelcoming requirements for guest protesters to be involved.

Though the protest was acknowledged by school faculty, administrators did not budge with the new meal plan decisions. The raised prices were put into effect, and Loyola students were given the cold shoulder from the institution we call home. The protest, though admirable in effort, turned out to be essentially pointless.

We’re probably not going to see a result whether students are protesting meal plans, the decision not to hold a snow day or any other school-related issue that may arise. It is clear by these changes that the administration is more interested in regulating speech than listening to it.

Open communication is encouraged from the university, but when the communication is attempted, it seems more one-sided than a conversation for improvement would be. This has been seen in many other events over the course of the past year, and there will be more to come.

The question now becomes: If we did protest, would it even make a difference? We can protest all we want with the updated policies, but we are not being listened to anyway. There is no room for improvement if our peers are only preaching to other peers. We want to be heard from people high up in the hierarchy that this institution is built on.

The people of the administrative hierarchy seem to have no regard for basic democratic values. Rather than confront and listen to the actual issues that are being voiced by their students, they are tiptoeing around the issues and attempting to silence us.

Loyola is a private institution and, as such, has the power to enact speech policies that would be considered too restrictive in public institutions. By coming here, all students agreed to abide by Loyola’s rules and standards. But the fact that Loyola has the power to impose those policies doesn’t mean it should.

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