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Demonstration Debate Continues at Senate Forum

Ellen Bauch // The Phoenix

Loyola’s University Senate hosted an open forum to debate changes to the university’s student demonstration policy on Jan. 22.

The forum, only the second in University Senate history, was the result of concerns that the current policy is too restrictive. Three students, from the student organization Loyola Black Voices, faced allegations of violating the policy after organizing a protest in support of the University of Missouri on Nov. 12. In response, on Dec. 8, interim President John Pelissero put a moratorium on the current policy, nullifying it, while a more efficient one was debated and crafted.

University Senate Chair Noah Sobe said the demonstration policy has been a concern for the Senate since last year, when the policy was changed from requiring a demonstration request three days in advance to requiring a request 10 days in advance.

“I think there’s a pretty widespread feeling that the previous policy was unnecessarily restrictive,” Sobe said.

Sobe said that the intent behind the forum was to allow students, faculty and staff a chance to voice concerns, raise ideas and ask questions related to the demonstration policy.

“The objective is to hopefully … identify some possible paths forward,” he said.

Pelissero said the Senate and the Student Government of Loyola Chicago (SGLC) would look at the policy in order to make recommendations, but he and his cabinet have also been discussing ways to amend the policy.

“We’re looking at what other universities have in place … to see how we can modify the policy,” said Pelissero.

Many students at the forum voiced issues with having to get prior approval for demonstrations, having designated locations for protests and requiring the backing of a student organization to submit a demonstration request.

Several student organizers of the demonstration in solidarity with Mizzou in November spoke, as well as a member of the Students for Justice in Palestine. All commented on how the school’s policy seemed too restrictive for them. Many argued for a non-policy policy, in that students could essentially watch over themselves in protest.

Senior Melinda Bunnage, 22, is one of those in favor of a non-policy. She could face as much as suspension due to involvement in the dining hall workers’ rights rally in November.

“I’m in favor of … a policy that says students have the right to demonstrate, you know. We have the right to peaceful demonstration,” said Bunnage, a sociology and women’s and gender studies double major.

Bunnage said many important social issues at the school could be addressed by students instead of being “brushed under the rug,” as she said, “if there was actually an open place for free speech on this campus.”

Junior Jason A. Pica II, said he thought the forum went well.

“Students finally have the opportunity to speak up about [the policy],” said Pica, a 19-year-old political science major.

Pica said he is in favor of having a “minimal” demonstration policy at the university because it protects students both involved in and not involved in activism. But he said he still wants students to have the ability to speak and demonstrate freely.

K.C. Mmeje, dean of students and a Senate member, said even with the requirements under the previous policy, no request to demonstrate has ever been denied by the university.

Lillian Osborne is a former SGLC member who could also face consequences for her involvement in the dining workers rally. The 22-year-old senior said the demonstration policy is too restrictive.

“If safety is truly the greatest concern of this university, then it should be about protecting political speech, not repressing it,” said Osborne, a political science and history double major.

Director of Campus Ministry Lisa Reiter was a faculty member in attendance who defended having a policy of some kind, albeit a less restrictive one. She said a demonstration policy is “a tool that is permissive … in terms of encouraging student activism.”

Senate member Niamh McGuigan said she was pleased with how the forum went overall. She said she thinks it was a good way to get concerns out in the open from both students and faculty.

“We ended up with a lot of really specific and constructive feedback about the policy,” said McGuigan.

Sobe said that now the Senate Student Development and Success Committee is bringing together its recommendations for a policy change using feedback from the forum. The committee and SGLC will work together to bring a final compromised plan to Pelissero.

“I suspect that we’ll have some serious revisions probably before the end of February,” said Sobe.

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