More than 65 students gathered in front of Ballou Hall to protest changes to the Tufts student code of conduct yesterday at noon. The new policy requires protest groups expecting more than 25 people to register their protest in advance with the Office of Campus Life (OCL) and receive approval.
The student protesters formed multiple groups and wrapped themselves in caution tape, never exceeding the 25 person limit per group. One of the students leading the event, junior Mauri Trimmer, criticized the university’s policy, expressing students’ fear of being silenced.
“[The university] require[s] us to register five business days [before the protest],” Trimmer said.
The protesters said that seeking event approval five business days in advance is not feasible for protests as the policy conflicts with the need for immediate action, citing protests following the Parkland, Fla. shooting and the dining hall workers’ effort to unionize.
Alejandro Baez addressed the crowd through the microphone, saying “Registering our protests takes away all of our power.”
Jessica Rosendorf, who was observing the protests, echoed Baez’s sentiment.
“The whole point of protesting is to be spontaneous, not organized,” Rosendorf, a first-year, said.
The protesters also criticized the uneven implementation of protest policies, a concern multiple student groups addressed in a letter to the Tufts administration. The letter was presented to Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon and Director of Community Standards Kevin Kraft, according to a press release shared on Tufts Student Action’s Facebook page. The letter was signed by a large contingent of campus activist groups, including Tufts Labor Coalition, Students for Justice in Palestine, Tufts Student Action, Tufts Housing League, Tufts Progressive Alliance, Jewish Voice for Peace, Tufts Climate Action, Left Unity Project, Action for Sexual Assault Prevention, South Asian Political Action Committee, United for Immigrant Justice, Tufts Asian Student Coalition, Students Against Incarceration and Tufts Dining Action Coalition.
“We worry that this policy will be used to effectively discriminate against radical-leftist and [people of color] student groups,” the letter reads.
Kraft previously told the Daily that the policy is in place for logistical and safety concerns and that the registration process will not discriminate events based on their contents.
“OCL [doesn’t] do a content analysis by asking questions like ‘is this event a good idea, does Tufts want to support this kind of event, is this a good use of money?’” Kraft was quoted in a Sept. 10 article in the Daily.
Kraft told the Daily in September that the policy would assist the university in coordinating police presence on campus. He cited a protest last year which resulted in blocked traffic, noting that advance warning would help with planning road closures with the Tufts University Police Department.
Trimmer criticized Kraft’s notion in the press release.
“A police-guided protest isn’t protesting anything. Disruption is the power of public action!” Trimmer said.
The protesters pointed to demonstrations last year at Wellesley College, where feedback from students, faculty and staff prompted Wellesley College President Paula Johnson to rescind an interim policy surrounding campus gatherings and protesters.
Spencer Perry, a senior, said that the policy conflicts with the nature of protesting.
“I don’t really see the university’s perspective on how this [policy] benefits student life,” Perry said. “The whole point of a protest is civil disobedience and so it just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Trimmer said that having multiple groups gathered to protest the same policy contributed to expressing student activists’ solidarity against the policy.
“It was so exciting to see coalition-building happening because the Tufts [administration] does a very good job of pitting student activists against each other,” Trimmer said. “[Protesting together showed the university that] this policy is not good for any of us, and we will all be here together, and we will all be here together to fight it. The students united shall never be divided.”
The protest took a shift at the end when Kraft was seen observing, and protesters proceeded to follow him. He eventually made his way to his office, with protesters staying behind.
Kraft reiterated the importance that protests would not be approved or disapproved based on the nature and material of the protest.
“[The] new policy is less restrictive than the previous version,” he told the Daily in an email. “The [current] policy reminds students and student groups of general expectations for student behavior and events, but it no longer includes many of the special requirements for demonstrations, protests, or other gatherings outlined previously.”
He acknowledged that there were some restrictions on events, though they would be applied equally.
“The new policy does include safety requirements that apply to all large-scale events, regardless of the nature of the event,” Kraft said.
Kraft said that the changes to the code of conduct considered student input.
“Prior to the drafting of the new policy, I met with many student activists to understand their views of the previous policy so they could be taken into account,” he said.
Kraft also said that he would continue to welcome student feedback.
“This afternoon, Dean [of Student Affairs Mary Pat] McMahon and I met with several of the leaders of today’s protest to hear their feedback directly,” Kraft said. “We are working with them and other stakeholders, including the Committee on Student Life, to consider this feedback.”