By Nailah Andre, Staff Writer
College campuses across the country have been erupting with demonstrations ranging in topics across the political spectrum and Hofstra University is no exception. With the frequency of protests increasing on campus, many student organizers are frustrated with the current guidelines that regulate on-campus demonstrations.
Last year, when Hofstra hosted the presidential debate, some saw it as an opportunity to make their voices heard. “The second that we realized that the debate was going to be on campus – that is when initially all the [organizations] made a really big GroupMe and had a conversation about what we want to do to let our voices be heard,” said Heather Grant, the event coordinator for the Black Student Union.
“While I felt like I was doing something to help push change by protesting, I still felt very, very restricted,” she said. “The whole entire point of protest is to have my voice heard and if you’re still restricting my voice are you really hearing what I have to say?”
A coalition of multicultural organizations on campus came together to make voice their concerns but were met with regulations. Demonstrators were not allowed to be on the residential side of campus but instead were accommodated on the academic side in front of Monroe Lecture Hall in an area dubbed “Issue Alley.” Additionally, there was a ban on bullhorns indoors and physically blocking exits.
Professor Neidt, who teaches in the sociology department said that regulations and restrictions can have an adverse impact on community organizers. “Social movements, organizations and groups often use protests to achieve their goals but many of theses groups are primarily made of volunteers. When you have a group that is mostly volunteer driven they have a limited amount of time to go through the bureaucratic channels.”
This is particularly true for student organizers who have to split their time between academic responsibilities and moral obligations. Neidt said one of the key purposes of protests is to gain visibility for a movement or group and sometimes that may involve being disruptive and shaking up ordinary routines.
“By controlling what protesters can do you also set limits on how visible they can be, how much they can get people to pay attention to them and ultimately how effective they can be when achieving their goals.” Neidt said.
Student organizers currently find that the process requires them to jump through hoops in order for events to be approved. This process includes filling out a Campus Demonstration Proposal Form which then must be submitted to the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement (OSLE) seven days prior to the demonstration.
For demonstrations such as Take Back The Night, the unscripted nature of traditional protests makes it hard for organizers to fulfill proposal requirements such as start and end times for the event. Take Back The Night involves students gathering together to speak about their experiences with sexual assault and is followed by a march through campus.
“You have to really be clear with Event Management and be very detailed on what you want to do because if they see anything contradictory or it doesn’t make sense then they have the power to deny the permit,” said Maria Zaldivar, the vice president of Campus Feminist Collective.
On the other hand, Karen O’Callaghan, the director of Public Safety, assures that these measures are taken to ensure student safety.
“We’re not restricting people’s ability to speak freely on campus, we just want to make sure that the location is not going to interrupt the classroom,” O’Callaghan said. “The reason we’re here is for education so as long as the demonstration is not going to involve loud speakers…we’ll look at that. And we also want to make sure what resources we need to help keep the participants in the demonstrations safe as well as anybody even if we end up with counter demonstrators”
On Sept. 22, Hofstra’s Pride Network held a vigil for Scout Schultz, a Georgia Tech student killed by the police on that campus.
In this case, the vigil was a spontaneous demonstration that was an immediate response to an event. As per current policy, organizers must submit the necessary forms a week in advance to OSLE; this can be problematic for demonstrations that are direct responses to current events.
For the Pride Network, the process included drawing a map that illustrated the location of the vigil, explaining why the event is necessary and detailing the logistics. “I just think that organizers should be able to organize without so much micromanagement,” said Ja’Loni Owens, the president of the Queer and Trans People of Color Coalition. “I feel like we’re all taking up so much time jumping through these hoops that we are taking away time for organizing. I think that if I wasn’t trying to frantically get the stuff approved into certain offices I probably could have done more.”
O’Callaghan noted protests that occurred in response to the construction of the new administrative business building. “That was not approved. But in essence, the way something like that was handled in this case was there was a conversation and actually after it, the president did go and speak to the students and listen to their concerns. So in most cases, that’s what you’re going to have happen.”
“People need to understand it’s not to discourage them,” O’Callaghan said. “It’s to make sure we can have whatever resources we need for it so that they’re safe.”