The “Protest Zone” plot thickens

Last week, I wrote for the Claremont Port Side that the Foundational for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, had sent a letter questioning CMC’s usage of a “protest zone” during the event.

Many colleges have, in contrast to the protections given by the U.S. Constitution towards speech, decided to create “free-speech zones” or “protest zones” on their campuses to limit where students may express themselves. In many cases, these zones are extremely small and directly keep students from expressing views or assembling in large groups.

Although Claremont McKenna College claims to uphold students rights to freedom of expression and assembly, it would seem that CMC has thought more deeply about these “zones” than anyone first expected.

Before the event, the Port Side took footage of the Pitzer Vice President for Student Affairs Jim Marchant and CMC Dean of Students Mary Spellman addressing the protestors. Most of the video shows two administrators that, although obviously concerned about the upcoming protest, are calm and collected, trying to make the line clear between peaceful protest and physical disruption.

But, at the 7:12 mark, check out what Dean Spellman says in response to Pitzer Professor Dana Ward’s question about how moving the event from the Ath to Ducey Gym keeps protestors hidden from Rice:

When Ward says how having the event at the Ath, whose dining room has large glass windows that face the quad, would make the protestors visible to Rice and Rice visible to the protestors, Spellman responds that “there wouldn’t have been a protest zone next to the building.”

Ward rightly responds that he can go (and protest) anywhere on the campus he pleases, but Spellman certainly incriminates CMC’s administration for thinking that these zones are perfectly fine. Dean Spellman makes it plainly clear that she has at least thought about limiting where students can and cannot protest on campus.

This makes me wonder: when did it become ok for CMC’s administrators, who are bound by California’s Leonard Law, to move protests into designated zones?

It’s a frightening development in understanding how administrators approach a group of people choosing to express their views collectively.

I look forward to seeing how (and if) CMC responds to FIRE’s inquiry.

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About Jonathan Rice

Fulbright Fellow, Pitzer College alum, and communicator passionate about telling stories that make an impact.

Posted on 04/01/2012, in College, Commentary, General and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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