Loyola released a new demonstration policy this year following the feedback and criticism the administration received after the change in last semester’s policy. Despite the changes, some students and faculty still fear the policy will have a chilling effect on free speech.
The updated policy is part of the Loyola’s 2015-16 Community Standards, which are released at the beginning of every semester.
Under last semester’s policy, all demonstrations had to be approved three days in advance by the Dean of Students Office. The new policy states Damen North Lawn is an exception to that rule. The lawn, located between the Damen Student Center and Mertz Hall, only has to be reserved for a demonstration through Campus Reservations.
Fixed exhibitions — such as displays, banners, flags or crosses — are only allowed on the Damen North Lawn and can only be erected by Registered Student Organizations (RSOs). Before, any student or student group could put up a fixed exhibition but had to first receive permission from the Dean of Students Office.
All demonstrations, regardless of location, must be reserved through Campus Reservations.
Director of the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution Dana Broadnax said the policy is always evolving, but that this latest version is an improvement.
“I absolutely think this is a step in the right direction, and more than just like a baby step. I think it’s quite a leap and a bound at least in the right direction,” said Broadnax. “Do I think that the policy satisfies everyone at the table? I think we’re close, but not everyone.”
This is not the first time students and faculty have criticized the demonstration policy. This year’s changes are a direct result of feedback the administration received about last year’s policy, according to Broadnax.
However, some students are still not satisfied with the changes. Four Student Government of Loyola Chicago officers — President Michael Fasullo, Director of Engagement Lillian Osborne, Director of Student Organizations Jackson Santy and Engagement Officer Adam Roberts — wrote a letter to the Loyola community outlining their concerns.
The SGLC officers’ main concern is that the area the university offers the most freedom of speech is, in their opinion, a poor location.
To Osborne, a 21-year-old senior political science and history double major, it would make more sense to expand the same freedoms to the whole campus.
“It made me think, ‘Why can’t we have this policy across campus?’” she said. “If we can have it in one isolated location that is secluded from all of campus, which makes it like a pretty worthless place to have a demonstration, why can’t we have that policy throughout campus?”
However, Broadnax said the policy highlights the Damen North Lawn because — in the administration’s opinion — it is an ideal location.
“It seemed like the most open space just by its proximity,” Broadnax said. “It’s between two student centers so you don’t have academic spaces that may be interrupted, but you also have high traffic areas.”
Another point of controversy is the fixed exhibition policy, which only allows RSOs to create displays and only on the Damen North Lawn.
Broadnax said this distinction was made so the university can easily hold a specific group accountable if there was a problem with an exhibit.
Loyola media law professor Bastiaan Vanacker said the other requirements the university has for setting up a demonstration, including reserving a space and getting permission from the Office of the Dean of Students, make the administration’s point moot.
“The way it is set up at Loyola you cannot protest without having your name attached to it,” said Vanacker. “I can see the rationale, but that small benefit does not outweigh the negative here that you basically create different treatment for different students.”
For Vanacker, the way to solve Loyola’s demonstration policy problems is to take a new approach — one similar to DePaul University’s.
DePaul’s demonstration policy states: “Orderly and peaceful demonstrations on the campus are permitted. However, the University has the obligation to ensure the safety of individuals, the protection of property and the continuity of the educational process.”
Vanacker said this approach, which grants students full free freedom of assembly and deals with inappropriate conduct after the fact, is preferable to Loyola’s policy.
Despite his complaints, Vanacker said he believes the university is writing these policies with “the best intentions.” He added Loyola is not the only university struggling with its demonstration policy.
“It is something that you definitely see happen on campuses across the nation — where free speech is kind of restricted in many ways or it’s being put in a corner. So it’s no way that Loyola is alone in this or the worst, but we kind of have to choose: are we going to be the ones that restrict or the ones that are open.”