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Rights and Responsibilities sets guidelines for student protests

Policies on free speech, protests, recording devices and drones were updated in this year’s edition of Rights and Responsibilities, the student conduct code.

Each year administrators alter language and update sections over the summer in preparation for the new school year. More often than not, the goal of altering the code is to clarify existing sections. However, new sections were added to guide student conduct for the 2017-18 edition.

Section 7.5, titled “Disruption of scheduled speakers or events”, is new to this edition. The section prohibits students from protesting in a way that interferes with “the ability of an event to continue as planned”, according to the handbook. While this section does not prohibit the actual act of protesting, it vaguely defines interference. Whether an act of protest meaningfully interferes with an event can be subjective.

Another addition to Rights and Responsibilities also deals with free speech. In section 6.1, “Posted notices,” the new handbook prohibits posting flyers or banners that contradict other parts of the handbook. This means that a posting that interferes with an event may not be approved or removed if posted. It also means that posters are held to the same standard as speech or conduct.

Kerry Guerard, director of Student Rights and Community Standards, clarified that any act of protest, including a sign, would only be stopped if it disrupted the event. “Signs in the back of an event would not seem to interfere with an event, but a sign in the middle of Commencement that prevented those around the sign from seeing the proceedings might need to be addressed. The section was added to provide clarification and guidance to our community on these issues,” she said.

Campus free speech became a national issue in May of 2016 after a protest at Middlebury College turned violent. Over 100 students prevented the speech of a scheduled conservative speaker, Charles Murray, by shouting him out of a room. Fire alarms were pulled and as Murray exited the building, protesters surrounded him and some began to shove him. The event prompted a nationwide discussion about free speech and campus protest.

The protest at Middlebury was not an isolated incident, and college campuses across the country have struggled to find ways to ensure the safety of students and invited guests in a politically charged environment. The issue has now reached the state, and may soon reach the federal level. In the last few months, a number of state legislators introduced or passed bills to protect free speech on campus.

The new bills, passed in at least seven states, force universities to remain politically neutral, meaning that the schools cannot choose to disinvite a controversial speaker. Similar to the new section of R&R, the bills would impose penalties on students who interfere with an event or speaker. Massachusetts has not passed a law concerning free speech on college campuses.

Changes to Rights and Responsibilities also clarified rules for student journalists. Using a device to record another student when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy is still prohibited. However, the new version of R&R clarifies that the rule is not meant to prevent journalists from recording interviews or audio at public events. A public event is characterized by an open space and a general invitation extended to the student body.

The part of the handbook that handles sexual assault and harassment was updated. A change to the Special Examiner’s process ensures that sexual history of either party will not be taken into account during the process. Immigration status will also have no bearing on a Title IX report or adjudication.

In an email sent to the student body on Aug. 28, Guerard highlighted two other new sections. Sections 2.15 and 2.16 make the use of drones and hover boards illegal on the Brandeis campus. They were already not allowed on campus, but that had been reflected in an email rather than a formal copy of the conduct code.

Guerard’s email also highlighted the addition of vaporizers and electronic cigarettes to the smoking policy outlined in 5.0. They may not be used inside buildings or within 30 feet of university owned vehicles or buildings.

A full list of revisions, as well as the new version of Rights and Responsibilities, can be found on the Department of Student Rights and Community Standards website.

That website also features a suggestion form which can be used to offer advice form the next update of Rights and Responsibilities.

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