One week before the start of the new semester, Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) received an email that notified them of a revised demonstration policy in the updated Community Standards. The policy states that students who choose to set up a demonstration on the Damen North Lawn, located between Mertz Hall and the Damen Student Center, are no longer required to obtain permission from the university in advance.
The change came in response to criticisms of the previous update to the policy, which reduced the amount of notice demonstrators needed to give the Office of the Dean of Students from 10 days to three. Theoretically, students can now hold spontaneous demonstrations on campus if they do so on the Damen North Lawn.
But there’s a catch.
All groups hoping to stage a demonstration, regardless of location, must still reserve space through the Office of Campus Reservations, Loyola’s office for reserving rooms on campus for meetings, events or other gatherings.
Another policy revision says that only RSOs can have fixed exhibitions. Before, any group could have a fixed exhibition, so long as it had permission.
This seems like a step backward paired with the step forward of getting rid of the advance notice requirement for the Damen North Lawn. The policy doesn’t allow students who aren’t associated with a particular RSO to voice their opinion on campus.
So far, only one student organization has requested and received permission from the Office of the Dean of Students to organize a demonstration, according to Kimberly Moore, assistant dean of students. There have been no requests to demonstrate that have been rejected, she said.
We can’t argue the fact that Loyola, as a private institution, has the right to restrict our speech in ways it deems appropriate. Unlike public universities, private universities have more allowance to restrict freedom of speech because they don’t rely entirely government funding.
These demonstration restrictions are set up, according to Loyola’s policy, to protect “the reputation and good name of the institution” and to prevent the disruption of the university’s basic functions — namely, the education of its students.
The PHOENIX staff understands the university imposes these restrictions on the basis of safety. The idea is that if administration knows of demonstrations in advance, security can be set in place at the time of the demonstration.
But shouldn’t Campus Safety have enough of a presence on campus to spot a demonstration or protest taking place and assign an appropriate number of officers to cover it?
Other Chicagoland schools, such as DePaul University, have demonstration policies which honor the rights afforded to us by the First Amendment, free from restriction.
As The PHOENIX reported last week, DePaul, a school with about 7,000 more students than Loyola, has a demonstration policy that permits “orderly and peaceful demonstrations.” The policy doesn’t require students to request approval, and it shows that the administration trusts students to not organize demonstrations that create a need for involvement by campus police.
A demonstration policy that doesn’t restrict students’ rights to free speech would foster an environment of debate and discussion, an environment where students feel safe to voice their concerns in a lawful and respectful manner. After all, without consistent debate and discussion, how can we ever hope to improve our campus, our lives and the world in which we live?
A university is a place where people are supposed to grapple with ideas, regardless of whether the school agrees with them or not. A campus where students can engage with challenging issues is a campus that’s living up to the ideals of what a college education should provide.
The positives of promoting free speech on campus far outweigh the potential problems that could arise from a more permissive policy. Sometimes it’s messy. But real life is messy.
The point is that we’re adults. In a short time, we’ll be headed into the “real world,” a place where we won’t need to ask permission before we voice our opinions in public. In the so-called real world, when you voice your opinions in a disrespectful, violent or otherwise inappropriate way, you face the consequences after the fact.
And isn’t that Loyola’s job? To prepare us for the real world?