Students must assemble within limitations

The right to freely assemble covers protesting, and the university has guidelines on the ability of people to do so on campus.

The university’s policy on assembled groups or individuals speaking in protest is outlined on page 49 of the UNA Guide to the Pride Student Handbook and Planner, which is based on the Supreme Court’s free speech policy, said Vice President of Student Affairs David Shields.

Lawful and peaceful demonstration as an expression is permitted at UNA, but occasionally, there may be time, manner or place restrictions on when people can peacefully assemble.

One such restriction would be if speakers or protesters interrupted educational activities or university operations.

“Let’s say some non-members of a class barricaded the door or (were) doing something outside the door preventing students and faculty members to get into their classroom or being so loud (and) disruptive that it interrupted the class,” said Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Tammy Jacques. “That’s not the right time, place or manner.”

However, if students were not disruptive, they could still protest in a classroom, Jacques said.

“If somebody was wearing certain shirts and they sat in the back of the class and were silent, it’s not disruptive because they’re still a part of the class,” she said.

Classroom protest could be an effective way to make a statement if it follows the university’s rules, said sophomore Jerico Garrett.

“As long as (protesters are) not being disruptive in the class, it could work toward (bringing about change),” he said.

Protesters also cannot block anyone from reaching any areas on campus, according to the handbook, and they cannot interfere with the use of any university facilities.

Another restriction is protesters cannot threaten or endanger anyone, and they cannot say things that result in damage or destruction of property.

“If I went (on campus) and I said, ‘I think we should go and burn the Stone Lodge down in protest of parking on campus,’ that would not be protected because you’re inciting people to conduct violence,” Shields said.

Speakers are also restricted from “hate violence” which is any physical intimidation, harassment, force or threat of a person or group for reasons such as ethnicity, race, religion or sexual orientation.

Speakers or protesters have not always had the right to gather freely on campus, Shields said.

“Years ago, universities created what they called (speech) zones, or free (speech) zones,” he said. “It was designated as the place where people could go, sort of like a soapbox. You can get up and just talk and do your thing.

“Well, what a lot of universities did is, they said, ‘OK, our free speech area is way over here in that back parking lot. That’s where you’re allowed to talk. And, the Supreme Court ruled that you can’t do that.’”

Before UNA was a walking campus there was a free speech zone in front of the Guillot University Center, Shields said.

Shields said he has never known anyone to break the free speech policy, but students have come close when interacting with the open-air preacher who visits the university. Regardless of the message, students who threaten a speaker will be in violation of the policy, he said.

Freshman Alex Harris said she saw students yelling at the preacher this year, and she did not agree with them gathering to engage him.

“But, I understood what they were protesting about because people have different views on religion,” she said.

Shields said the best way for students to handle a protester or speaker they do not agree with is to “change the channel. Walk away.”