Some feel administrative policies are too restrictive
Eduardo Cuevas and Nicolas Sonnenburg
THE SANTA CLARA
February 26, 2015
Recent activism by student organizations on Santa Clara’s campus has raised questions about oversight of the right to free speech on campus. The annual drag show, last year’s push to cut Jansport ties and last quarter’s die-ins on National Police Brutality Day spurred students to support various causes. Some students say this activism has been met with opposition from university administration.
Most of the controversy surrounds the university’s expressive activity policies, which were formalized in 2010 as a response to student desires to host demonstrations beyond the confines of Benson Plaza, the formerly designated “free speech” zone.
According to the student handbook, “The purpose of these time, place, and manner regulations is to guarantee the right of free expression; ensure the safety of students, faculty, and staff; advance the academic mission of the University; and protect the property rights of the University.”
Requests for free speech events must be submitted to the vice provost for student life 72 hours in advance, and must include information about the sponsoring organizations, participation of non-affiliates and subject matter of the event.
Student groups interested in hosting demonstrations, marches, vigils or rallies must receive approval from university administration.
However, various student leaders have expressed concerns that the process stifles free speech on campus.
The policies are unclear and create limits on free speech by forcing students to outline their demonstrations beforehand, according to Senior Max Silva, associate director for the Santa Clara Community Action Program.
“The way (this policy) works from our end is there is an expressive activity form that has to be filled out by students that seems to have become more enforced,” said Silva, who has been involved with the campus LGBTQ organization Gay and Straight People for the Education of Diversity since his freshman year.
“I think people have a fear because of the threats that have been given,” he said in regards to the disciplinary process, which he criticized as being unclear.
As a member of the Rainbow Resource Center’s Steering Committee, which helps oversee GASPED, mathematics professor Ed Schaefer sees the frustration students have with the expressive activities approval process.
Schaefer, who has taught at Santa Clara for 22 years, has helped negotiate the continued performance of the annual drag show on campus by adding an educational component to the event.
“Though (the expressive activities protocol) helps protect our students and administrators from criticism, I feel it is too constraining and is preventing some educational opportunities,” he said in an email.
This criticism rests in the university’s commitment to truth, according to senior Torie Tremblay, Department Coordinator of Empowerment for SCCAP.
She quoted the university handbook’s introductory statement, which outlines the university’s responsibility of “encouraging the free exchange of ideas for the purpose of developing and pursuing the truth” for students.
“Being involved in various rallies and actions with (Bronco Leaders of Environmental Justice Investigating Truth), GASPED and (the Labor Action Committee), I can say that these actions would have been even more successful if we had not been suffocated by the policies that are in place,” she added. “These are all organizations that develop knowledge and pursue truth.”
Members of Igwebuike, Santa Clara’s black student union, also claim that they have faced backlash from administrative authorities, which occurred around the planning of several die-ins on National Police Brutality day last quarter.
Alana Hinkston, a member of Igwebuike, said the group did not submit the event for approval by administrators due to the cumbersome process.
They drew chalk outlines of bodies onto the ground at 6:30 p.m. the night of the protest, but the chalk had been washed away by administrative authorities by 8 a.m. the following morning.
Hinkston said that despite this response, faculty members showed their appreciation for the event afterward.
Tedd Vanadilok, the director of campus programs who oversees the review and approval process for many expressive activities conducted by student organizations, said that while the expressive activity policy is effective and takes Santa Clara’s Catholic identity into account, he also recognizes student agitation with the regulation of expressive activities.
“A few ways for us to address this concern are to improve how we communicate the policy to students, help them interpret what the policy means, be as fair as possible when applying the policy and propose revisions to the policy that may resolve student concerns,” Vanadilok said.
Still, Silva said that the university’s Jesuit, Catholic identity can promote active dialogue regarding the LGBTQ community and other traditionally disenfranchised groups.
“There’s space for this in the Catholic Church now,” he said. “All these things are very much along the lines of Jesuit and Ignatian values, as well as Catholic values (and) social teachings.”
Recognizing the Catholic identity of the school in handling requests for events related to controversial topics is a complex process, according to Jeanne Rosenberger, vice provost for student life and dean of students.
“I think that, at the end of the day, there are some tensions between our commitment to social justice and our Catholic identity,” Rosenberger said. “I need to be able to acknowledge that. We can disagree, but to know that in disagreeing, I’m not saying ‘you can’t do something.’”
Rosenberger said that past events, most notably how last year’s Rainbow Prom was centered on marriage equality, raised eyebrows within the Santa Clara and greater Catholic community.
Parents, alumni, donors and even the Cardinal Newman Society have come forward expressing concerns over perceived divergence from Catholic teachings.
However, Rosenberger said that the issue of student concerns over expressive activity forms is a result of miscommunication.
“I have no interest in stifling student voice,” she said. “I really want to create a space that allows students to express themselves. I recognize that it has been quite a while since we have reviewed (the expressive activities process) and am becoming quite aware that students see it as a challenge.”
Rosenberger hopes to reach out to student groups affected by free speech issues, particularly SCCAP and GASPED, and facilitate a discussion about improving the free speech process on campus.
“If the current policy or practice is problematic, I’m completely open to revisiting it,” Rosenberger said.