Following a seven-month-long review by the Committee on Student Life, the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs presented an updated student code of conduct on Aug. 31. The changes made range from an enhanced anti-hazing policy to considering individual needs in determining the university’s response to students who receive drug and alcohol-related medical treatment. One of the changes, however, has sparked some concern from students: Any event that has more than 25 people — including gatherings, protests and demonstrations — must be registered in advance and approved through the event registration process managed by the Office for Campus Life. While Director of Community Standards Kevin Kraft has made it clear that the intention is not to inhibit students’ freedom of expression but to address logistical and safety concerns, requiring all protests to be registered will complicate the process of protesting on campus and possibly have the consequence of drastically altering the political climate at Tufts.
College campuses have historically been crucial sites for political protests. Students’ opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War is a prominent example — the youth of that generation galvanized anti-war sentiments across the country with the protests that they led, including our very own predecessors on the Hill. College students have the potential to make the world view itself differently. As such, colleges, as institutions that are supposed to champion independent thinking and personal growth, should not make it increasingly difficult for students to arrange protests that represent their beliefs.
At the heart of protesting is the idea of being able to express opinions that are sometimes controversial and in opposition to the powers that be, oftentimes spontaneously. Registering a protest beforehand undermines its intent and impact. Will students truly be able to stand up to injustices if their protest is meticulously scrutinized by a group of authority figures whom they might be challenging? Further, if students are required to communicate all of the minor details regarding their protest with the university, organizers may be forced to scramble to inform both attendees and university administrators if circumstances arise in which they have to alter their plans. Students may even have to gain the university’s approval once more, with the potential to delay or even cause the cancellation of the demonstration. This is not what protesting is about. At its core, protesting should simply be about a united group of people peacefully demanding for change in society.
Another problem that may arise from this new registration requirement is that more lines will be drawn between students and the administration. College campuses are supposed to be grounds for development — for students, their professors and all of the individuals who work for the university. By instituting measures that make it more difficult for students to express themselves and their opinions, the Tufts administration is effectively putting a wall between itself and the students. A relationship that is supposed to be mutually beneficial and respectful may unfortunately morph into a wholly antagonistic one if adequate freedom is not provided. Students should be able to cooperate with the administration on their goals, rather than view it as an obstacle.
Given the politically turbulent era the world is currently in, demonstrations are more important than ever. College students play a vital role in creating social change: Through marches, speeches and other forms of protest, they ensure that the world hears them. This new rule undermines a tradition of activism that is synonymous with college campuses, including our own. The administration needs to make sure that students are given the indisputable right to express themselves without being held back by policy changes.