Hundreds of students gathered outside Founders Hall. Some carried signs that said, “When PSAFE can’t keep us safe, we keep us safe,” all holding indignant feelings in their hearts. Although it has seemingly been two years since a student was sexually assaulted on campus, the ramifications of this incident still ripple through to the present.
After protests against Public Safety, Guilford College made changes to their protest policy which some students view as oppressive. But are these policy additions actually despotic? Through my thorough analysis of the peaceful assembly policies at Guilford College, I personally believe that the standards set for protest do not cross constitutional boundaries.
As students in a democratic nation, we often jump to conclusions when we feel that our constitutionally guaranteed rights are threatened. This response is natural in the world we live in. Students in Hong Kong are attacked by Chinese police when they campaign for democracy, and we cannot have the same oppressive policies developing in the US. However, jumping to conclusions means that we often fail to analyze the facts presented to us.
The First Amendment guarantees the right to religion, assembly, press, petition and speech. These rights are upheld as long as they do not interfere with the rights of other citizens. Although you have freedom of speech, you cannot go around telling people you are going to kill them. This is violating their right to safety.
Similarly, protests cannot threaten the safety or wellbeing of others. As long as protests remain peaceful and do not infringe on the rights of others, they are protected by the constitution and can take place on public property.
Guilford College has a webpage dedicated to its peaceful assembly policies. The website outlines what types of assembly are allowed, and steps on how to form an assembly through the college are listed. The website never says that protests are prohibited on campus. However, rules are in place to keep protests from getting out of control and infringing on the rights of other students.
These rules benefit our campus more than they hurt it. Imagine trying to get to class when hundreds of people are blocking the doorway to the building you need to get into. Think of how hard it would be to study with the sounds of protestors on loudspeakers outside the dorm rooms. The statutes in place specifically protect students against belligerent protests.
Protestors are not allowed to block roads, walkways or entrances to buildings. Amplified sound cannot be used at certain hours of the day. Invasion of private areas and classrooms is specifically prohibited. These rules in no way dampen the ability of students to express their opinions.
Students are still allowed to protest peacefully in designated areas with the permission of the college. Protestors will meet with Public Safety to discuss the logistics of a planned protest. A specific time and place will be agreed upon where students can spread their message in a civil way. When students meet with Public Safety, they improve the security of protests.
When controversial ideas are being expressed or protested, tensions can rise rapidly. Without the protection of Public Safety, a physical conflict could arise. Unfortunately, if Public Safety is not already on the scene, it will be very difficult to break up fights or riots that spark out of protests. Public Safety does not have the manpower or means to stop a large scale conflict once it has started. This is why they need to prepare before a protest, and minimize the chances of violent conflict.
Thankfully, Guilford College permits students to protest. Being a private institution, the college is not required by the Constitution to allow protests. With this fact in mind, students should remember to go through the proper steps to organize a protest. We should ensure that protests always remain peaceful and do not infringe on the rights of others.
Finally, we need to remember that Guilford College is a learning institution first. Any protests that threaten the mission to educate students will be shut down, and the assembly guidelines will likely be tightened.
Editor’s note: This story originally was published in Volume 106, Issue 4 of The Guilfordian on Nov. 1 2019.