UGBC Hosts Focus Group on Proposed Free Expression Policy

On Monday, November 24, UGBC hosted a small focus group to receive feedback on their proposed free expression policy as part of the new student guide. The proposed policy includes sections on fliers, handouts, tabling, banners, speeches, debates, external speakers, demonstrations and protests. It will be presented on December 5.

A central part of the proposal is the creation of a new Committee on Free Expression. Students who feel that their rights have been infringed upon can appeal the decision to the Committee.

All of the policies include reasonable restrictions, including the University's bias-motivated offense policy, which says that anything targeting someone based on the victim's race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, nationality, gender or ethnicity is prohibited. None of the forms of expression listed can call for "the endangerment of any community member or facility." Members of the focus group discussed what possible definitions of endangering meant, and how those definitions (i.e. including emotional harm) might be interpreted and used.

Billy Foshay / Gavel Media

Billy Foshay / Gavel Media

Another important part of the proposed policy is that not just officially recognized student organizations, but also other groups of students, have the right to free expression. For example, if 15 or more students sign a petition to post a flier, under the new policy, they would be granted the same right as any other student organization.

The students also discussed whether or not  the Office of Student Involvement should be able to reject a flier, and under what circumstances. For example, should OSI be able to reject a flier based on language some might deem offensive, like cursing? Many people mentioned that there is limited space to hang fliers and banners on campus, which could create problems for students to exercise these rights.

Perhaps the most controversial part of the new policy is the section on student demonstrations, which currently states that students can demonstrate on O'Neill Plaza, the Academic Quad, and the Stokes quad without any type of prior approval. Students debated what type of limits can and should be imposed (it's currently stated that they can't block or restrict others, make excessive noise or interfere with classes or other activities) and whether or not students should have to get permission or give notice of a potential protest or demonstration.

The proposal also referenced the 1968 speaker policy, which is more open than the speaker policy today. Under this proposal, the University would reserve the right to reject a speaker, but would have to report that decision and the reasons behind it to the Committee for Free Expression, which could then rule on the fairness of that call. UGBC can then notify student newspapers of that decision and, if they felt the need, write a letter to the editor about that decision.

UGBC will be hosting more forums and is looking for student input before they present the policy on December 5.

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