Loyola released a new demonstration policy on March 17 without fanfare — there were no photo ops or commemorative pens. The new demonstration policy is a part of Loyola’s Community Standards, which set guidelines for student behavior, and the latest version of a 33-year-old policy that has undergone years of revisions, refinements, tune-ups and tweaks.
Policy Change Begins New Free-Speech Era
Students may now demonstrate anywhere outdoors and inside student centers without giving prior notice to administration. Fixed exhibits — which include ribbons, banners, temporary walls, flags, crosses or signs planted in the ground — require notice two days prior to installation and a meeting with the Office of the Dean of Students.
For 41 years, Loyola’s campuses have played host to more than 30 demonstrations (also known as protests or rallies), as recorded in copies of The Phoenix dating back to 1975. More than half of those recorded demonstrations have happened since the 2000-01 school year. In the past school year alone, there have been at least six demonstrations — three of which happened this month.
The policy implemented in the beginning of the 2015-16 academic year limited spur-of-the-moment demonstrations to Damen North Lawn, required three days advance notice and approval from the Office of the Dean of Students for protests anywhere else on campus and prohibited all use of amplified sound.
The university made changes to the policy after hearing from students, faculty and staff that it restricted freedom of expression too much, according to Interim President John Pelissero, Ph.D.
Junior Jackson Santy, 20, said he is pleased with the change but still sees room for improvement in the new policy. He pointed to the prior notice policy for fixed exhibits as an area that could be improved. He said he hopes the administration continues to listen to and work with students.
“I really hope that this response from the administration continues to be a trend in them responding to our needs and wants and, arguably, our demands,” said the women’s studies and gender studies major.
Despite some students’ desires, Dean of Students K.C. Mmeje, Ph.D., said not having a policy at all is unrealistic. The university is responsible for all activities that happen on campus and the safety of all the people on campus at any time.
The majority of universities across America have some form of demonstration policy, according to Mmeje. The University of Chicago has a demonstration policy that requires students to get approval for protests 48 hours in advance. Northwestern University and DePaul University’s policies state that if a demonstration doesn’t disrupt campus activities, protesters may do as they please.
Senior Lillian Osborne, 22, a political science and history double major, said she wants the university to trust the students to demonstrate under a “non-policy” policy that very simply supports dissenting speech on campus. She also said she thinks many students don’t trust the administration.
While trust may be an issue, no demonstration has ever been denied for content reasons under the demonstration policy, according to Vice President for Student Development Jane Neufeld. There have been protests that disregarded the rules and continued without permission. Still, Mmeje said he understands how students could have believed the old policy would allow the university to prevent a protest based on its subject matter.
“The former policy included language that would lead one to believe that viewpoint and content were a consideration when determining whether or not a demonstration was going to be allowed to occur,” said Mmeje. “That was never the case in practice.”
In the original 2015-16 policy, there was a line in the first paragraph that read, “Safety, protecting the reputation and good name of the institution, and maintaining the uninterrupted operations of the campus are paramount concerns for the University.”
This line is no longer part of the policy.
Senior Michael Fasullo, a political science major, said he wanted to avoid making the struggle around the demonstration policy a bipolar narrative that puts students and administration at odds with each other.
“I don’t like to pit two entities against each other,” said Fasullo, who stepped down as president of the Student Government of Loyola Chicago (SGLC) in January, in part because he said he wasn’t able to fulfill his presidential campaign promises, which included a campaign for workers’ right to higher wages, better hours, health care and better working conditions on campus.
However, the two-sided narrative seems to be a tradition where the demonstration policy is concerned, and organizers are often quick to use it to describe their struggle.
Loyola’s administration had been considering totally restructuring the demonstration policy since the 2014-15 school year when a group within the University Senate — a governing body that includes faculty, staff, students and administrators — began looking at the policy, according to Mmeje.
Assistant Dean of Students Kimberly Moore was tasked with overseeing a group of administrators and student representatives from the Campus Activities Network and SGLC to determine the issues with the policy and recommend changes that were then implemented at the beginning of this school year.
“It became clear, very early on [this school year], that [students] were very upset with the changes,” said Moore. “They felt [the changes] didn’t go far enough.”
As a result, the issue was brought to the University Senate again, Moore said.
Events in the fall sped up the policy revision process, including a rally held by a student group called Loyola Black Voices (LBV) on Nov. 12 in solidarity with University of Missouri students who were facing racial discrimination. The event was organized by juniors Ryan Sorrell, Julian Marshall and Dominick Hall. A group of students delivered a list of demands to administrators at the end of the rally.
Around 700 people showed up to the rally, according to Neufeld. The LBV organizers said there were likely more than that.
If it weren’t for this rally and the attention it drew to the demonstration policy, the administration probably would have waited until the summer to draft a new policy, Mmeje said.
Following the rally, Pelissero put part of the demonstration policy under moratorium, meaning three out of the four sections (not including the introduction) would no longer be enforced. These sections pertained broadly to all demonstrations and specifically to demonstrations on and off the Damen North Lawn.
Although the LBV organizers said they were told they wouldn’t be punished for the protest, the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution issued them allegations. After an informational meeting, the students were formally charged but after their hearing, allegations were dropped.
Several weeks after the LBV protest, another demonstration, held by Students for Worker Justice in partnership with SGLC, also led to allegations that were dropped against students. The allegations this time included harassment and bullying along with disruption and disorderly conduct. Melinda Bunnage, 22, a senior sociology and women’s studies and gender studies double major, worked to organize this rally and said it was never the organizers’ intention for the demonstration to break the policy.
SGLC faced policy violation charges as well, however, and the organization was sanctioned after choosing not to appeal.
On Jan. 22, the University Senate held a town hall-style meeting about the demonstration policy to gather student feedback. Senior Maura Rocks, 22, who worked with staff and administrators to plan a peace march after student Mutahir Rauf was murdered in December 2014, attended this meeting. She said she was overwhelmed by the bipolar arguments that were being proposed.
“I started realizing that this issue was being portrayed in this very black-and-white reality of ‘the demonstration policy is bad’ and ‘not having one is good,’” said the political science and theology double major. “I remember sitting in the back of that meeting thinking, ‘I am a student who doesn’t feel my voice is being represented in this conversation.’”
Because of her concern for the policy’s development, Rocks got involved in the conversation by submitting policy revision recommendations to SGLC. She said she was worried that the campus conversation was too focused on the demonstration policy and the causes were taking a secondary role.
Now, however, with the new demonstration policy allowing more freedom of speech, Rocks said student activism has been able to re-focus on the issues.
Kathleen Meradith, 21, a political science and international studies double major, agrees. As a graduating senior, Meradith said she hopes the demonstration policy serves as a platform for future students to continue organizing around important causes.
“My hope is that the new demonstration policy encourages student groups and students to mobilize people who care about issues in a way that isn’t just shouting into the abyss, but [in a way] that they can ultimately come to a table they have not been invited to before,” she said.
The Dissent Policy Grows Up
To fully understand the present reality of Loyola’s demonstration policy, it’s helpful to look at the past.
Loyola’s “Policy On Dissent” was first presented to the community on the first day of school of the 1983-84 school year. Based on The Phoenix archives dating back to 1975, there were no major on-campus protests that led to this implementation.
The 1983 policy began with a statement of the university’s commitment to building an environment on campus that allowed for dissenting ideas and opinions — a sign of “intellectual vitality.”
Between 1983 and 2010, the demonstration policy saw only minor changes, including the creation of four subsections — General Policy, Disruption, Guidelines for Demonstrations and Procedures for Handling Disruptive Actions or Demonstrations — and the addition of a demonstration request form. None of the changes affected the core content of the policy.
The 1990 policy distinguished disruption and dissent, asserting that “disruption is based on harassment, coercion and/or violence.”
In 1991, the demonstration policy included the requirement for students to complete a demonstration request form, and at some point between 2002 and 2010, a violation-ranking system was implemented.
In the last five years, however, the demonstration policy has seen major changes.
In the 2013 policy, a new paragraph asserted that Loyola had the right to limit demonstrations that ran contrary to the school’s mission in content or viewpoint.
Also in 2013, a four-day minimum demonstration approval period was implemented and a section was added for fixed exhibits. Administrators could reject fixed exhibits based on their content. Exhibits were allowed exclusively outside and could not be displayed for more than five consecutive days nor on weekends or university holidays.
The 2014-15 school year’s policy went unchanged until updates were made in January 2015. The January updates exempted prayer services and vigils as long as Campus Ministry was a co-sponsor and reduced the written approval requirement period from four days to three. Additionally, Loyola community members would be responsible for the actions of their “guests,” and demonstrations held in any buildings other than a student center would immediately be considered “disruptive.”
At the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, Loyola unveiled a different demonstration policy that allowed impromptu demonstrations in the Damen North Lawn, while still maintaining that demonstrations elsewhere on campus required approval three days prior to the event.
The 2015 policy removed any language that allowed Loyola to restrict a demonstration based on viewpoint or content, though the policy asserted that “protecting the reputation and good name of the institution” was a “paramount” concern for the school.
Students were allowed to erect fixed exhibits without approval, but structures were only allowed to be in the Damen North Lawn from 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
In January 2016, in the wake of the 700-person LBV protest, sections 1, 2 and 3 of the 2015 demonstration policy were put in moratorium, meaning only the introduction to the policy and the fixed exhibit policy stayed in effect.
On March 17, 2016, the current policy was released. It has no language that implies the university may censor demonstrations based on content, and as previously mentioned, students may now protest anywhere outdoors and inside student centers without prior notice. Fixed exhibits require a two-day prior notice.
If history teaches anything, it’s that this certainly won’t be the last version of the demonstration policy.
Special thanks to the Loyola University Archives & Special Collections