SGA discusses protest guidelines controversy

By TIANCHENG LYU | February 8, 2018

During their third meeting of the spring semester, the Student Government Association (SGA) heard presentations by representatives from the University’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life and the Interfaith Center.

Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL) Calvin Smith expressed his willingness to work with SGA to foster a community of safe fraternal organizations at Hopkins.

“The first chapter was established at Hopkins in 1877, one year after the founding of the institution,” Smith said. “[FSL] oversees the 23 social organizations at Hopkins, and if the SGA, as the body that represents the undergraduate population, has any needs or concerns, we’d always love to collaborate with you.”

Next, Kathy Schnurr, the University chaplain, introduced the mission of the Interfaith Center as the main base for both Campus Ministries as well as informal educational and social gatherings.

“We mainly oversee the spiritual wellbeing of our community,” she said. “We’re also in partnership with LGBTQ Life and many other offices on campus. Our office is a confidential resource, [meaning that] unlike the Counselling Center, if you come to us, our conversation remains entirely private.”

Schnurr also presented the Interfaith Center as a source of mental health support for Hopkins students.

“We believe that taking care of your spiritual self is a big part of being a healthy person,” she said. “So we help students, especially young adults still in the exploratory phase, navigate difficult family, social situations and relationship issues. We also assist students in negotiating with the faculty when they have academic schedule conflicts due to religious reasons.”

Next, SGA discussed the revised version of the “Guidelines for Students in Support of Free Expression through Protests and Demonstrations.” 

This past year, the University revised the protest guidelines. According to an email sent to students from Homewood Student Affairs, “[The revisions] help to safeguard and support open, vibrant expression; to prevent harassment and discrimination; and to make sure student activists are fully aware of the resources available to them from the university.”

Before opening up the floor to discussions, Executive Vice President of the SGA AJ Tsang, commented on the problems with the older version of the guidelines.

“The University usually consults the SGA during the process of drafting the guidelines,” Tsang said. “The initial version, [which] we saw last fall, was about 10 to 15 pages and [contained] a lot of legal jargon. It’s written by lawyers and not so much by the deans and other administrators of the school.”

Senior Class President Kwame Alston, argued that it’s necessary for the SGA to reach out to other student groups.

“It may be beneficial to gather the heads of the organizations most affected by these new guidelines,” he said.

He elaborated on SGA’s responsibilities in the wake of the new guidelines, adding that they needed to keep in touch with students.

“We should get their opinions on this before we say anything official. Our final opinions need to be reflective of the perspectives of the entire student body, not just our own.”

Freshman Class Senator Lauren Paulet pointed out the merits of the new guidelines, such as the University’s encouragement that students schedule protests and demonstrations ahead of time.

“I found the guidelines to be very helpful and peaceful. I especially thought that it was nice for [the University]... to provide locations and space for student groups to express their voices,” she said.

She also expressed her concern regarding the guidelines’ lack of transparency in illustrating the consequences of student violations.

Alston responded to Paulet’s comment with his own concerns as the leader of the Black Student Union, an active student group on campus.

“As a leader of a student organization that has done a lot of protests on campus, I’m not going to pay that much attention to the new guidelines because student protests sometimes need to go to the rounds of things that aren’t ‘acceptable’ to make changes,” he said. “But I will be very interested in knowing what consequences I’m signing myself up for.”

While acknowledging the fact that listing the possible consequences in the guidelines might seem intimidating, he also stressed its necessity.

“I know it might look a lot more negative when you put [the consequences] on the website, but I need to know what I, as a leader, will get members of my student organization into,” Alston said. “The consequences don’t have to go directly into the document, but we should at least have access, like a link, to them.”

SGA aims to hear the opinions of student groups and continue their discussion on the University’s new guidelines.

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