The University administration released new “Guidelines for Free Expression” last week “to serve as a resource to you as you consider acts of public expression” on and around campus. While it is unclear which policies outlined in the document are new and which are compiled from old statutes, what is clear is that these “guidelines” are merely restrictions on our freedoms re-branded as “resources” and “support.”
The document begins by saying: “We do recognize that the creation of guidelines can be perceived as antithetical to the spirit of free expression” — but this is not just an issue of perception. The guidelines are, in fact, antithetical to the supposed goals of academic and political freedom.
The University is asserting its “ability” to restrict the “time, place, and manner of events” related to free expression. The guidelines threaten the use of these restrictions for “intentional disruption of currently occurring expression” and “intentional disruption of teaching, research, administration, and/or other educational activities at the University” — though it makes clear that these are not the only reasons these controls will be used.
The first case, known as counter-protesting, is a powerful and necessary tool that we, as students, have to express ourselves. Actions such as protests against the anti-choice propaganda that frequently plagues our quads as well as disruptions of the reactionary speakers currently touring the country would be constrained under this rule. Our freedom of expression is based on our ability to disagree. Restricting our rights to voice this dissent hinders, not supports, our freedoms.
Moreover, the inclusion of the clause threatening restrictions of actions which disrupt “administration... activities at the University” is a clear attempt to quash the provocative protests against the administration that have grown in number and size over the past three years. The clear imbalance of power between students fighting for change and the University administration can only begin to be equalized when we have the right of unfettered access to our administrators.
Disrupting administrators is not only a consequence of many freedom-of-expression actions, it is many times the entire purpose of them. We have seen time and again (e.g. the BSU protests in 2015, the fossil fuel divestment and pro-Humanities Center actions in 2016 and the SLAC protests now) that our voices are only heard when we force them to be heard. This often involves the “disruption of administration activities” that would now be considered in breach of these so-called guidelines.
These restrictions also make clear that “non-affiliates” do not have the same access to these (now-restricted) rights to protest on campus. With a University that has as big of a (often destructive) footprint in Baltimore as ours does, the limits placed on the rights of non-affiliates to work with students to enact change is disheartening. Further, while the document lists groups of people that are explicitly considered affiliates, noticeably missing from this group are contract workers.
This is paired with statements by administrators over the course of the SLAC conflict that have expressed “fear” at the presence of “non-affiliates” that are “not required to follow the same code of conduct.” This further raises concerns that these “guidelines” are nothing more than an attempt to pacify the expressions of discontent that many groups currently have towards the administration.
To comply with these constraints, the document dictates that “students and/or student organizations who seek to engage in acts of free expression should reserve available spaces and coordinate the planning of events” with proper administrators and that “during the activity, participants should consider the advice, perspective, and guidance of the administrative liaisons.”
These recommendations would diminish the capacity of students to organize and express themselves, especially when the actions are purposefully targeting the administration. Informing administrators of the intentions of protests only serves to give ample time to prepare for potential confrontation or, as we have seen time and again, flee to avoid interacting with students altogether.
We call on the administration to amend these guidelines. In their current form, they are no more than restrictions on our rights and freedoms dressed up with a dystopian title. Moreover, we encourage all students and student organizations planning actions designed to push the administration for change to reject these guidelines and recommendations. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; It is absolutely essential to it.”
Hopkins Students for a
Democratic Society (SDS),
JHU Black Student Union (BSU),
Refuel Our Future,
Voice for Choice (VfC),
Students for Justice in
Students for Environmental
Diverse Sexuality and Gender Alliance (DSAGA),
Sexual Assault Resource