Vague Demonstration Policy Threatens Student Voice

The Claremont Colleges’ Council of Presidents may not have anticipated that they would provoke such a strong student backlash, but they got more than they bargained for when they instated the new demonstrations policy, as noted in Diane Lee's page 1 article. Although the new revision was reversed pending a review, it is still worth analyzing the policy that has existed all along.

The language of the policy, as it stands now, is incredibly vague. The policy should clarify what actions will be taken for specific violations. Currently, the colleges reserve the right to call the police to arrest students simply for “acting in a non-peaceful or disruptive manner,” an incredibly broad and disconcerting mandate. Are students to be arrested simply for organizing sit-ins if the president determines they impede access?

This is particularly concerning when considering that the large-scale protests of the last year were organized by and for black students. As the case of Sandra Bland illustrates, however, the very act of putting black people in police custody can place their lives in jeopardy, so the mandate is even more concerning with this in mind.

If the prospect of being arrested seems unrealistic, just look back to March 2001, when students were arrested for a nonviolent protest against the Claremont Colleges’ decision to give land from the Bernard Field Station to Keck Graduate Institute. The policy in effect today was adopted that November, just eight months after these protests.

As noted by guest columnist Ashley Land, Pomona College Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum has stated that any protests in recent memory—most notably, the protests organized by Black Lives Matter activists in the last year—would not have been found in violation of the policy. Still, the fact that the colleges can exercise this amount of power on students means that students must live in fear of whether they will be found to be in violation of the policy.

California is the only state in the nation that extends First Amendment rights to students at private colleges. With that in mind, let’s do everything in our power to exercise them.