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Students from seven different campus organizations speak against the "Freedom of Expression" policy on Thursday.

Opposition to 'Freedom of Expression' policy unites students across the political spectrum

Students wearing both socialist symbols and “Make America Great Again” hats sat together Thursday night as leaders from seven campus organizations came together to voice opposition to Ohio University’s interim “Freedom of Expression” policy

Representatives from the OU College Democrats, OU College Republicans, International Socialist Organization, NAACP, Students for Liberty and Young Americans for Liberty stood side by side to solidify their stances and answer questions at the “Students United Against Being Silenced” forum. 

Although the groups differ in ideology, they agreed that the university’s policy should be rescinded. 

The interim policy, which prohibits “demonstrations, rallies, public speech-making, picketing, sit-ins, marches, protests, and similar assemblies” inside funiversity buildings, has drawn criticism from students, senates and faculty organizations since its implementation. 

“I do believe that freedom of thought and freedom of expression is of very fundamental importance for a just and ethical society,” Young Americans for Liberty President Jacob Koval said. “I have strong opinions that the school should rescind this policy.”

OU alumnus and local activist Damon Krane spoke from his experience with a former OU policy restricting use of outdoor space.

The legal standard, he said, is that university administrators can place constraints on the time, place and manner of speech that creates situations disrupting university proceedings, creates a public safety hazard or infringes on the rights of others. 

Constraints are also applicable, Krane said, when administrators can make a “reasonable forecast” that an incidence of student speech will bring about disruptions. 

“It’s just a blatantly unconstitutional legal policy … the policy’s a bluff. It’s a joke,” Krane said. “It doesn't give the university a new legal tool — but they’re trying to convince student activists that it does. That they have this new weapon they can use against you.” 

Although the coalition is in the process of crafting a joint statement to publicly condemn the policy, representatives disagreed on whether to describe the policy as “silencing dissent." 

“Such a statement needs to include the phrase,” ISO member Tyler Barton said. “They're literally using it to silence dissent. That’s the reason why that’s a problem.” 

Members of the panel addressed another potential problem: the possibility that the policy would be made final.

“I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” OU College Republicans President Ryan Evans said. “We have hopes that enough voice, enough of a movement against this policy will be enough for the university to realize this is not what students want.” 

In discussing next steps for the coalition, multiple representatives referenced an upcoming protest, which is set to take place Friday, Oct. 20 at the Athens County Courthouse. Included in the event’s description is a demand that the policy be “done away with entirely” without any policy taking its place.

Although some members of the coalition and audience offered different ideas, including campus-wide walk-outs and the distribution of a petition, others agreed that the protest is the only effective way of communicating with university administrators. 

“If we argue with the university, we’ll be waiting forever — past our graduation dates,” NAACP President Mark Brown said. “In order to make change right now and to stand as a student body, we need a large group to protest.” 

Local activist Ryan Powers said members of the coalition across the political spectrum need to mobilize their organizations to publicly “shame the university.”

“I think it’ll be beneficial for anybody who wants this policy repealed to mobilize their forces and show up to the protest,” Powers said. “I don’t think asking the university nicely is going to get them to repeal this policy. We’re going to have to demand it and fight for it.” 

@lauren__fisher

lf966614@ohio.edu

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