After protests this past November opened a dialogue between students, faculty, and administrators about the right to freely demonstrate on campus, Loyola University Chicago (LUC) has revised its demonstration policy, affirming and expanding free speech rights at the university.
On November 12, over 700 students, staff, and community members demonstrated at LUC to protest racism on college campuses and to show solidarity with the protests taking place at the University of Missouri. A few weeks later, members of the Loyola Black Voices group, who led the protest, faced suspension for violating the university’s demonstration policy. According to the group, the university objected to the event because it was unregistered, it took place in unreserved locations, and the students used amplified sound without prior permission. The charges were later dropped.
During the same time, another group faced sanctions based on a demonstration at LUC. On November 20, students from the groups USpeak and Students for Worker Justice joined with dining hall workers employed by Aramark in a protest for higher wages and health insurance. After beginning outdoors, the students later moved the demonstration indoors into the dining hall, where the office of an Aramark manager was located. Following the protest, the manager reported the students for harassment, bullying, and disruption. Four students, along with the entire student government organization, faced sanctions on these charges. The students argued in response that the dining hall’s capacity of 550 people safely accommodated the protesters, who were demonstrating peacefully. The individual students were eventually found not responsible for all of the charges, but the student government, which was listed on the demonstration reservation form, was found responsible for the “disruption” charge.
Following these two series of events, on December 8, LUC Interim President John P. Pelissero released a “Moratorium on Demonstration Policy” statement, placing four sections of the demonstration policy under administrative review. In the statement, Pelissero encouraged student and staff dialogue, saying, “I am confident we will advance our shared goal of an increasingly invigorating and productive campus.”
Now, Pelissero has delivered on his promise with a new demonstration policy. In a statement to the LUC community on February 23, Pelissero shared a proposed demonstration policy, thanking the students who reached out during the review process, including during a widely attended University Senate open forum. Continuing the open dialogue, Pelissero invited the LUC community to review the proposed policy and submit comments during a two-week period.
On March 17, Pelissero released the final “Student Free Expression: Demonstration and Fixed Exhibit Policy,” which can be found in LUC’s revised Community Standards. Pelissero called the policy “a testament both to the power of student voices and to the progress that can be accomplished when a community comes together to create change.”
The new policy makes clear that all “demonstrations and fixed exhibits—regardless of the content or viewpoints expressed” are permitted, as long as they are orderly, lawful, and comply with applicable university policies. It also makes several specific changes that expand students’ right to freely demonstrate on campus.
First, the previous policy had required groups of students wanting to demonstrate in a campus location other than Damen North Lawn to register their event through the dean of students. Students are now encouraged to notify the dean of students of a planned event but are not required to do so. This change allows for spontaneous demonstrations, which are often important in responding to evolving issues on campus and beyond.
Second, the previous policy also prohibited all indoor demonstrations, a point at issue during the dining hall protest. The new policy allows for indoor demonstrations in two locations: the Damen Student Center and the Terry Student Center.
Third, failure to register for the use of amplified sound was one of the charges against the students protesting against racism in November under the previous policy. Amplified sound is now permitted without prior registration, as long as it does not disrupt classes or other events on campus.
We commend LUC on its policy changes and on the way that the university arrived at the policy. As Pelissero rightly noted in his Moratorium on Demonstration Policy statement, “a commitment to understanding and personal growth comes from the process of sharing perspectives and listening to various opinions.”
LUC’s new policy sets a good example for how to accommodate student protests and demonstrations, and we hope other colleges and universities will follow in LUC’s footsteps.