What would the world be like if student protests never happened? What would the sixties be if students weren’t out protesting the Vietnam War? Or if students didn’t fight for their right to free speech at Berkeley? We would most certainly be living in a different world. We might still have segregation. We might not have Title IX. We wouldn’t have the Gender and Sexuality Studies Department (the product of a Lane Hall sit-in in 1997). The positive changes that these movements produce mark the importance and efficacy of student activism and reveal it to be a driver of social change. Because of this, schools and colleges have a special duty to ensure that their students retain their right to protest, but Bates has not lived up to this responsibility.
Bates touts itself as a college founded by activists, but it recently laid the foundation to suppress its own. During finals week, when students were working tirelessly on their academics, an email was sent out to the student body by the Assistant Director Of Campus Life, Nick Dressler. Within the email was a link to the Bates policy on Speakers, Performers, and Protest. It shouldn’t take long for a reader to realize that Bates’s policy on protests is extremely flawed. The vague language of the policy can easily be interpreted in a way that curtails the right to student protest.
The most broadly worded portion of the policy is the section that limits our right to protest the most. The policy states that, “The public expression of views and opinions may not prevent, unduly obstruct, or interfere with the normal operations of the college.” This may sound ostensibly reasonable, but this gives the Bates administration carte blanche to shut down any effective protest it wants to. Let’s examine what may be included under the umbrella of interfering with college operations: chanting, protesting while classes are going on (effectively barring all daytime and afternoon protests), and even protesting the Board of Trustees (can’t interfere with the College’s business activities!). In addition to that, the rules also specify that approval must be received from the administration before using amplification equipment. So megaphones, a symbol of resistance, are effectively prohibited as well.
What makes this situation even more lamentable is that these rules surfaced a month before we dedicate a day of classes to one of the most famous protesters in U.S. history, Martin Luther King Jr. King never stood idly by and protested in silence. He was arrested 29 times while fighting for civil rights. How can Bates College exalt the legacy of this man when they themselves restrict our right to protest? This was a man who disrupted the status quo to empower his people and create positive change.
We know that this policy limits the right to free speech. But whose speech does it curtail the most? To answer that question, we can ask who benefits from student protests? Working-class students, female students, students of color, queer students, trans students, etc. From this, we can see that this policy limits the rights of especially vulnerable populations of students. How ironic can it be that a college that was founded by abolitionists can now silence the voices of those it sought to help?
It is saddening to see a college, supposedly founded upon a vision of change and justice, curtail a fundamental right crucial to pursuit of change. While some may say that this college is the property of the administration, and they have a right to regulate behavior as they please, that isn’t the most important consideration. Rather, it is this: We, the students, adopted Bates College as our home. Therefore, we should have a right to protest where we live and work every single day of the academic year. To the student body: now is the perfect time to assert loudly that we have a right to protest, and that it must be recognized! To the Bates administration: We have taken notice.