Image from coed.com, image is of the Nov. 13, 2015 protest at Henry Crown Sports Pavillion during a speech President Morton Schapiro was making in front of a large audience of donors.
Members of The Coalition for Free Speech and Unusual Noise (“The Coalition”, for short) met with Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Telles-Irvin Monday, December 4 to discuss revisions to Northwestern’s Disruption and Demonstration Policy.
In a public statement made by The Coalition earlier on Monday, the group defines itself as a “nonpartisan, inclusive group of concerned students and student activists fighting for freedom of speech.” They believe that current Northwestern protest policy needs revision because its language stifles student free speech and protects the white, male, cisgendered, upper-class status quo, according to The Coalition
Several representatives of The Coalition met with Telles-Irvin to voice their concerns on Northwestern’s current protest policy. Members representing The Coalition included ASG’s Vice President of Student Activities and Resources Alecia Richards,Vice President of Accessibility and Inclusion Austin Gardner, and ASG President Nehaarika Mulukutla. The President of the Immigration Justice Project, Ana Acevedo, was also representing The Coalition at this meeting.
The Coalition produced a list of demands to enact policy change to give to Telles-Irvin in Monday’s meeting. Included in these demands are changing registration of public protest from the Dean of Students Office to the Office of Student Organizations and Activities, the immediate termination of requiring student officer’s to put their names on protest registration forms, and for the protest policy to specify its inherently vague language vulnerable to subjective interpretation. The Coalition says that these features of the policy need amendment because they inhibit student speech and give university officials power to penalize student officers, as well as unfairly take down protests when they become “disruptive” or “unusual”, two terms in the policy that are not clearly defined.
“We don’t think the Dean of Students Office should handle the protest policy, the SOA should do it,” Acevedo said. “The language in the protest policy is very vague, we want to change that and make it more clear…. A lot of things are very subjective, so it is very hard to know what it is you are allowed to do and not allowed to do. A lot of administration seems to be confused what the policy actually means and what it means for them too.”
Acevedo mentioned the details of the meeting, specifying that Telles-Irvin only had around 10 minutes to spare to listen to their concerns. Acevedo recalls Tells-Irvin not being particularly receptive of The Coalition’s revision demands, but also not completely against the idea. Informal plans for a second, longer meeting in the month of January have been made between The Coalition and Vice President Telle-Irvin, where discussion of the protest policy and its issues will be fleshed out in greater detail.
“I think she heard us. We are hoping to meet up with her with other members of The Coalition in January, so she heard us and will have a dialogue and a discussion about it in the future next quarter.” Acevedo said.
The Coalition also demands that the policy be revised every two years, under concerns over how outdated the current policy is. They said that the three year policy revisions are not frequent enough to stay relevant with the university’s culture and social changes.
The Coalition’s Communal Statement, released on Monday prior to the meeting, also features a plethora of signatures from various student groups and exec board officers, as well as individual students on board with the goals of The Coalition. At the end of their statement The Coalition has pressed university officials to “engage the coalition and other concerned community members in a community dialogue.” The Coalition gave a deadline of February 2, 2018.