It is common knowledge among the American people that freedom of speech and the right to assembly are protected under the first amendment.
However, some may be surprised to learn that students at Seton Hall University and other colleges around the country are required to apply to the University administration to be allowed to protest.
Enacted on Aug. 21, 2017, the Student Protest Policy requires a student planning a demonstration or protest to contact the Dean of Students’ office for information, according to the University’s website. Students then must fill out and submit a protest application at least 48 hours before the demonstration is set to begin.
Prior to Aug. 21, “a protest was treated as any other student ‘event’ and had to go through the event approval process. So, while there wasn’t this type of specific policy, there was an approval process in place,” said Karen Van Norman, associate vice president and Dean of Students.
“The University is committed to academic freedom and civil discourse,” the policy says. “A student protest or other public demonstration is permitted so long as it is peaceful, non-obstructive and respectful of the University’s Catholic mission. The University reserves the right to designate time, manner, and appropriate areas for the assembly.”
Disruptive conduct, including interfering with University operations, preventing access or egress to offices or building and exceeding noise levels, are not permitted under the policy.
Van Norman said that a policy like the one Seton Hall adopted isn’t uncommon.
“Most colleges and universities have such policies, in fact I would venture to say that almost all communities or cities have them for the same reasons,” Van Norman wrote in an email. “The purpose is to make it possible for the individuals who want to engage in the protest to be respected and to have the protest in a safe and reasonable manner, while also make it possible for those who do not want to engage in the protest to also be respected.”
Van Norman said that each request is considered based on its own merits and needs.
Two weeks ago, students protested about racial concerns at SHU on The Green.
Aleessa Akengnan, a junior biology major who helped organize the protest, said that she was not aware of the policy until one of the other organizers informed her.
“I don’t think it is common knowledge that applications are a requirement,” Akegnan said via email. “I think people may not know about it because it is not thought about. When organizing a protest, an application doesn’t come to mind because a protest is an expression of opinion and an assembly of what one believes in. Thus, it might be interpreted that an application is not needed because we already have the right to protest.”
Emani Miles, a junior Africana Studies and political science major who also helped organize the protest, said that she doesn’t believe that the protest is common knowledge among students because of freedom of assembly and because it seems “logical” that students would have the same ability on campus without the risk of an application denial.
“I understand why they do it,” Miles said. “I’ve been told that it was a concern for safety, but I think that there could still be a possibility that they could deny your protest application if you are protesting for a cause that would hinder their reputation or credibility as a university.”
Akegnan recommends that everyone look into the University policies because there are many that not a lot of students are aware of.
“They are accessible to us, we just have to read them,” Akegnan said. “It is important that we know and understand our policies so that we can learn useful information.”
Ashley Turner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.