GUSA begins to clarify University free speech policies

Sunday’s GUSA meeting featured a presentation by current GUSA President Nate Tisa (SFS ’14) on the University’s free speech policy and what has been done to modify it since the Free Speech Forum in January and the following H*yas for choice incident.

With input from student groups and the campus-wide form distributed via email, Tisa co-authored a memorandum of understanding with Tane Arana (SFS ‘15), one of GUSA’s deputy chiefs of staff; Chandini Jha (COL’ 16), one of GUSA’s deputy chiefs of staff and president of College Dems; Matt Hamblin (COL’ 15), president of Sigma Epsilon; and Emily Perkins (COL ’14), GUSA press secretary and H*yas for Choice board member.

Within the memorandum, solutions to four main problems in the current policy were offered. The first problem concerns student groups’ lack of official advocacy for free speech on campus. To address this, Tisa plans to revive Georgetown’s Free Speech Committee in order to establish a channel of communication between GUSA and the University. If you have never heard of the committee, Vox is not surprised. Though it has been around since the 1980s, the committee met only once last year to discuss whether H*yas for Choice could put fliers on cork boards instead of doors, according to Tisa’s presentation in GUSA. Tisa promises that the committee will now meet every other week to advocate on behalf of student groups’ right to free expression. The committee will consist of students, faculty, and administrators.

The second issue is co-sponsorship: student groups that have access to benefits are hesitant to cosponsor events with those that do not because they believe that the University will penalize them. Tisa said that this is not the case and that all student groups can cosponsor regardless of their access to benefits status. The memorandum clarifies this aspect of the current policy.

The third problem the memorandum hopes to ameliorate is access to space. The current policy mandates that groups that do not have access to benefits must obtain approval from both the Registrar’s office and the Center for Student Engagement in order to request space for events. This process, Tisa explained, is disadvantageous to groups without access to benefits as it takes up to a week longer to reserve space than for groups with access to benefits. He proposed a fast-track-system that puts student groups on a list sent directly to the Registrar’s office and put through the system immediately. Student groups, however, must complete a thirty-minute training in order to use the fast track system.

The memorandum’s last proposal deals with tabling, an issue that H*yas for choice recently brought attention to in January. Tisa explained that there is a misconception that Red Square is the only free speech zone on campus, when it is simply an area reserved for free speech. All of campus is in fact a free speech zone, but the policy has been improperly enforced, Tisa said. The solution is to set up four public spaces reserved for free speech: Red Square, the Healey Family Student Center lobby, Leavey lobby, and Regent’s lawn. Further designating such “free speech areas,” though, may seem somewhat counter-intuitive when also emphasizing that the entire campus is a “free speech zone.”

Tisa also said that student groups will be able to table inside Leavey irrespective of the weather as groups in the past, namely H*yas for Choice, have only been allowed to do so if the weather did not permit outside tabling. In other words, the weather the administration dictated the group’s right to express free speech.

Tisa mentioned another issue with tabling that the administration is currently looking into. Tables block oncoming traffic, particularly in Red Square. Tisa said: “students have the right to walk without getting harassed.” (Vox is looking at you, GUSA campaigners).

Needless to say, the memorandum of understanding covers many hot topics for the Hilltop. After Tisa and his trusty team of free speech advocates followed up with students groups for feedback, they presented the MoU to the Speech and Expression Committee. The committee must now make the necessary edits before presenting it to the University. The University must sign the memorandum before all the points can be applied to student life.

He ended the presentation looking towards the future by welcoming Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15) and Omika Jikaria (SFS ’15) to the executive slot. “We are happy that Trevor and Omika had free speech as a big part of their platform and we are looking forward to working with you guys on that.”

Photo: Newtown grafitti via Flickr

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