Planning for Positive and Peaceful Campus Demonstrations

Diane Podolske, Director, Office of Community Engagement, California State University, San Bernardino

January 17, 2018

Protest marches and demonstrations have resurfaced as a vehicle for educating and recruiting activists for a cause.  The televised protest marches following the presidential election may have sparked your students’ interest in hosting a demonstration on campus for a cause or issue.  Hosting rallies on campus is possible, but special care needs to be taken to respect campus policy on the time, space and manner of these events.  Here are some ideas to consider when guiding these student leaders:

  1. Most campuses have a speech and advocacy policy, which describes in detail the “free speech” zones where a rally can take place without breaking campus policies, and also the time, place and manner restrictions for freedom of expression events.  Student leaders may not be aware of these policies and restrictions, which may lead to frustrating event planning experiences and possible cancellation of events. Providing copies of the policy and talking through the process early in the planning stages will educate students on the university’s policies that protect their expression of speech and assembly while limiting the disruption of university operations.
  2. Campus policies may also address the display and/or distribution of published materials, such as handbills or circulars, at the demonstration.  The policy may also cover signage that often is an important, eye catching component of a demonstration march.  Understanding related policies in advance can prevent difficulties on the day of the event.
  3. Demonstrations often feature amplified sound, either at a podium or with electronic megaphones, and the volume of amplified sound for events held when classes are in session are typically regulated.  Again, understanding the policies in advance will hopefully eliminate issues on the day of the rally.

Determining logistics and understanding policies are only one part of planning a demonstration.  The heart of any rally is the cause or issue, and often the cause has had a personal and emotional effect on students.  While some demonstration participants intend to raise awareness, educate and advocate for change, others may simply be angry, hurt, or feel they are in an “us vs. them” situation.  Students may feel victimized or marginalized by responses to the protest or issue, especially if the responses come from campus staff, faculty or other students.  Providing campus/off-campus resources for having difficult conversations and continued advocacy is important for students’ civic engagement, and also providing resources for students’ mental and physical health may provide critically needed support for these students in crisis.

An annual event on the CSUSB campus is a good example of how to host an effective educational rally while complying with university policies.  Embrace the Change: Moving Forward with Hope and Healing is a University, community, and County wide event that promotes mental wellness, embracing change, hope for the future, and healing from the past. Hosted by CSUSB’s School of Social Work, the event celebrates Mental Health Month by engaging the campus and community in an event of bright colors, community and inspiration.  The event includes wellness resources, inspirational speakers, and a spectacular and colorful “Parade of Flowers" where participants show their support for people with mental health challenges by holding flowers and parading through campus with signs and banners.  Participants are also encouraged to wear lime green in support of Mental Health Month. Sponsors of the event include the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health, and guest speakers have included university administrators, community leaders, and student advocates.  The kick-off happens at noon in the center of campus, and the entire campus is invited to join in the rally and parade. Support services and referrals are available for anyone who would like to learn more or explore mental health care options.

How are your students engaged in demonstrations and protests?  What role can your office play to help facilitate these conversations and guide student advocacy?

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