GUSA and the Georgetown University Speech and Expression Committee held a free speech forum last Friday titled, “Free Speech in the Digital Age: Are There Boundaries?”
During the question and answer period of the forum, members of GU Pride and H*yas for Choice brought forth concerns about their ability to exercise free speech by tabling and bringing certain speakers to campus. In response, both GUSA President Nate Tisa (SFS ‘16) and Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson explained that free speech and protest are not confined to Red Square and that student groups can be kicked out of other spaces only if their speech activity “disrupts or obstructs the functions of the University or imminently threatens such disruption or obstruction,” as written in the Speech and Expression Policy.
With this new information, H*yas for Choice protested and tabled in Healy Circle on Jan. 20 in response to the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life event in Healy Hall. Despite Olson’s and Tisa’s assurances that the speech code protected such activity, GUPD officers forced H*yas for Choice to move outside the front gates within 18 minutes.
GUPD’s decision to remove H*yas for Choice, which is not recognized by Georgetown University, from Healy Circle to outside the boundaries of University property reveals that, although the administration claims to recognize free speech on campus, it still needs to reconcile its rhetoric with its practices.
H*yas for Choice’s table was completely outside Healy Hall and did not interfere with the Right to Life event in any way, yet GUPD still removed them from campus.
Removing groups from public areas is not the only way the University has attempted to silence certain groups. At the free speech forum, GU Pride President Thomas Lloyd (SFS ‘15) explained that his administrative advisors often warn him against bringing certain speakers to campus or hosting certain events. Lloyd claimed that featuring pro-gay marriage and safe-sex speakers is essential to Pride’s success as a student group, but that he fears backlash from the University if he does choose to host them.
GUPD should formally apologize to H*yas for Choice, especially if the group’s claim that they have been removed from other areas in the past is true, and cannot selectively enforce the speech code against unrecognized student groups like this ever again.
The University must abide by its own speech code and neither formally prevent nor pressure student groups from exercising their free expression. To do otherwise compromises Georgetown’s legitimacy as a University which promotes free-thinking and human rights.