The Free Forum Area—a misnomer if we’ve ever seen one. Emporia State is a quiet campus; not much is done by means of protest. Some would say this is good, that it’s emblematic of a happy student population, and perhaps that’s true. But it is the freedom to protest, not the tangible presence of it, which holds value within democracy. The designated Free Forum Area, the space between Memorial Union and Plumb Hall, is at best an unnecessary restriction and at worse an affront to students’ right to organize.
Some of the parameters for protest, according to the policy provided to us by Gwen Larson, assistant director of Media Relations, include disclosing the names of people involved in the demonstration and their contact information, the amount of people anticipated, a 72-hour prior notification of intent, as well as restrictions on the size and type of signs used. Any violation of these rules is justification in either denying or suppressing the protest.
These are not just unrealistic and dangerous parameters, they are also a bureaucratic strategy to make future protest difficult, if not impossible.
College students are often the focal point of progressive dissidence. Iranian students marched against the Shah in the 1970s, Chinese students against communist repression in the 1980s. Countless other global and domestic examples illustrate the university as a springboard to political change. It was precisely because these students were suppressed that they marched.
Last June, a similarly designated “free speech zone” at the University of Cincinnati was ruled unconstitutional in federal court on the grounds that it unfairly limited the right to organize and free speech. It is imperative that students not foreclose their constitutional rights unknowingly and unconditionally.
The Student Handbook claims the university promotes students’ first amendment rights and that reasonable demonstration will be permitted. The point of any limitation on protest is to ensure that the school smoothly functions as a place of higher learning and rightly so.
But at what cost does an education come? Our schooling is not a strategy of compliance, but to politically liberate. We educate our population so that democracy can function. To limit any expression of democracy is counter intuitive to higher education in its conception. We are a public university, but perhaps this is what they mean when they tout a “private college experience.”
We are not in the business of disrupting the everyday activities of ESU, but we also understand the function of knowledge is to fight complacency. It is the duty of the university to support its students’ growth educationally, socially and politically. We ask that the university review its policy on the limitations of protest and demonstration.