I recently attempted to reserve one of the university’s outdoor spaces to exercise my “freedom of expression” namely to demonstrate against Ohio University’s low health insurance subsidies and high graduate fees for graduate assistants. I am a graduate student and a member of the OU Graduate Employee Organization. When I attempted to reserve the space outside of the fourth floor Baker entrance, a space listed as a reservable outdoor space in the revised “Use of Outdoor Space” policy and a space listed on the university’s event services page as an option for reservation, I was told that it is not available. According to the Assistant Director of Event Services, “That space is no longer reservable and we are in the process of updating both our website and policy 24.016: User of Outdoor Space on the Athens Campus.”
I find this deeply upsetting for several reasons. In trying to reserve space for this demonstration, I attempted to follow the two interim policies, the “Use of Outdoor Space” policy and the “Freedom of Expression” policy. I attempted to reserve the space ahead of time — a courtesy that the Freedom of Expression policy does not even require.
However, it appears that the university is not enforcing these interim policies as they are written — policies that had no review process in the first place — but instead is enforcing whatever they wish the policies to be. I am troubled that the university expects us to follow these two interim policies if they don’t follow them themselves.
The university is already restricting free speech by banning indoor protests and is creating stricter guidelines about where we can exercise our free speech. Apparently removing at least one of the outdoor spaces for free speech is on the agenda for the next draft, and contrary to policy, the space can no longer be reserved. Are other outdoor spaces also going to be removed? What spaces will be left for protest, particularly protest aimed at university policies and procedures?
Elliot Long is a Doctoral Candidate in interdisciplinary arts at Ohio University.