On Monday, December 11, 2017 Nick Dressler, Assistant Director of Campus Life, sent out an email to Bates students informing them of a new policy regarding practices relating to speakers, performers, and protests. This document outlines suggested measures that student clubs and organizations could take when bringing in outside sources to Bates or staging a protest.
The policy was constructed by a Faculty learning community group and had members such as: Carl Steidel, Senior Associate Dean of Students, Gwen Lexow, Title IX Officer, John Baughman, Associate Professor of Politics, Amy Douglass, Psychology Department Chair, and others.
Associate Dean of Faculty, Margaret Imber, explains, “One of the things that Bates didn’t have (and which many of our peer institutions do) is a statement of principles on free speech that introduces the policy statement. The participants in the learning community have been reading recent scholarship on free speech (Free Speech on Campus, Safe Spaces, Brave Places). We’ve also held open meetings (salons) where we have workshopped scenarios about campus-free controversies to get the perspectives of a wider range of members of the community. We’re holding such a workshop on MLK day as well.”
Some lines of the policy can come across harshly. For example, the policy states, “The college reserves the right to deny permission to invite speakers or performers whose history or purposes have demonstrated that they would likely constitute a material threat to campus safety or security.”
When asked to explain this in laymen’s terms, Kim Trauceniek, Associate Dean of Students for Campus Life, elaborated that the statement is “not meant to be restrictive, but it’s meant to be in there to say if something rose to the level of where there’s been harm, we want to have a conversation about that and make sure it’s a good fit for the college, and we actually have the resources to support a speaker that could potentially be divisive or cause harm.”
Regarding protests, according to Trauceniek and Dressler, the policy is meant to be suggestive, rather than compulsory. Dressler clarifies that “The language was drafted in the way it was in order to enable gray areas. So ‘ordinarily acceptable,’ for example, means that there are places that are ordinarily host to these things. Are there places that aren’t ordinarily host to these things, that people can have these things? Yeah, absolutely. It’s meant to be suggestive in terms of resources and support rather than restrictive.”
For clarification, Trauceniek and Dressler wanted to stress that students are not required to give notice prior to a protest happening.
The extra degrees of clarifications from the administration help shed light on the nature of the policy. However, there was a lack of input from students on the initial draft of the new statement that left some feeling cast aside.
The sophomore assembly in Bates College Student Government (BCSG) says “We feel blindsided by the new policy addressing speakers, performers, and protests on Bates College campus specifically for the absence of student participation in drafting the policy. We also recognize concerns of censorship and hope that the college takes action to address these concerns immediately, as they affect how we feel as students in a supposed collaborative residential community.”
To some, it felt as though the Office of Student Life introduced the policy to the BCSG in a top-down fashion rather than by using an integrated approach. But not everyone feels the same way as the sophomore class representatives.
Andrea Russo ’19 is a member of the junior class assembly of BCSG and notes that “a handful of students are disgruntled by the new policy, but the purpose of its implementation is to further embrace Bates’ culture of respect for others with varying opinions. Bates is offering a platform for individuals who are invited to speak and believes that they have the right to voice their full opinion. Other clauses that some students are disgruntled about are ‘recommended’ and not required…”
There are a plethora of understandings and feelings surrounding the new policy. Maybe it is due to the nature in which the policy was initially released, or maybe it is due to the heightened emotions in a time where the First Amendment continuously comes under fire.
Imber states, “I… hope that we can come up with an understanding of ourselves of a community engaged in the exchange and debate of ideas. Participation in that community requires both that individual members can speak freely, and that our speech acknowledges the dignity of our peers.”