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Policy Revisions: How It Affects Your Right to Freedom of Speech and Assembly

Shiza J. Manzoor | smanzoor1@radford.edu

Radford University is revising and trying to obtain feedback on its Free Expression Policy that is bound to affect all students, faculty, staff, community members, and visitors.

History has time and time again proven that the right to free speech is worth fighting for, even dying for. It is the reason the states stand united today, as the land of immigrants, the land of the free, and the land of opportunities for natives, foreigners, even the undocumented.

However, there are consequences to expressing freely, without fear of facing retaliation, and that, also according to history, has cost this nation and has it’s people their lives.

While a rough draft of the policy revisions does not exist at this time, the proposed changes are being verbally discussed at Senate meetings and is being met with strict scrutiny by some.

“New revisions are more about how to operationalize that policy statement with safety in mind,” said Susan P. Trageser, newly appointed Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students.

The revisions do not change the current policy much except a few additions are being made regarding providing specificity.

For instance, the definition of “spontaneous demonstrations” and guidelines relating to “time, place, and manner” will be included. Gatherings of more than ten people “taking place without an advance notice in a generally open, outdoor areas” will be called off, or dealt with appropriately.

Critics view this as a threat to the First Amendment and the right to assemble, and think, at the very least, that this may be a gateway that could potentially put limits on other rights. Some also challenge the practicality of these potential changes.

“Nothing on our own campus is drawing this, but external sources [are],” said Dr. Jake Fox, President of the Faculty Senate, in reference to past school incidents that have sparked this initiative.

He thinks this may be a difficult feat to accomplish. “With a gathering of more than 10, I don’t know the difference between a bystander and someone who’s participating.”

In light of what happened in Charlottesville, another proposed change touches on “unaffiliated entities” looking to use the campus grounds to express themselves.

The current policy defines the unaffiliated as “businesses, organizations, groups, or persons not affiliated in an official capacity with the University.” This excludes university colleges, departments, offices, and recognized student clubs, university employees and students – all of which are affiliated entities.

“Somebody that’s not affiliated with the university or a group that’s not affiliated with the university would have to be sponsored by a college, a department, an office, or a recognized student organization before they can come on campus in the future,” said Trageser.

“There is no intent to squelch speech. The same spirit is there in terms of encouraging our students to exercise their voices when they want to… in a safe way,” she added.

Dr. Scott Dunn, Faculty Senate representative for the School of Communication, is relieved the committee is keeping the floor open for this conversation. “I have some concerns, but I’m glad the administration is trying to address those concerns – at least, is listening.”

Joe Carpenter, Vice President for University Relations, admits this to be a “contentious” subject but believes it is something worth the fuss. “You get a large group of people. You got to think about their safety – where they’re going to enter, where they’re going to exit. We’re a public university, an open campus, protecting the safety of all, including opposing viewpoint.”

He added, “The intent is to really improve how to make what we have safer, but not restrict the fundamental rights of people.”

Photo Credit (Dylan Lepore | The Tartan)

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