“St. Olaf students, faculty, staff and campus visitors may not block entrances or impede foot/vehicle traffic … disrupt teaching or administration … [or] amplify music or microphones that interfere with other uses of buildings or other campus space,” according to St. Olaf’s recently updated Peaceable Assembly Policy.
Formerly called the Protest Policy, the rules were updated this past fall in response to the protests of last spring and students were notified about the changes via an email from Dean of Students Rosalyn Eaton on Feb. 28. The policy has been met with frustration from students, who think that it disallows many effective means of peaceful protest.
Administrators held a town hall on Wednesday, March 6 to hear student concerns.
“We keep talking about the protests last year, we love that that happened, but it disrupted teaching and administration, it impeded foot traffic. By this policy, it was not an acceptable protest,” Ian Sutherland ’18 said at the town hall. “I’m just confused and wondering if you could explain why you think that it’s a great thing and then immediately legislated so that it cannot happen in the future.”
Eaton emphasized that protests are sometimes met with consequences.
“If I choose to go out and protest … and I choose to break the law, there are going to be consequences for me, but it doesn’t necessarily stop me from protesting,” Eaton said.
Some students were worried that the policy was too vague. General Counsel Carl Lehmann ’91 said the way students are interpreting the policy is not what the writers intended.
“When we say ‘impeding,’ we mean you can’t block cars, you can’t prevent people from leaving a building who
“Yes, the timing of this communication isn’t completely just a happenstance, I don’t want to have another situation where there’s any confusion over what is okay and what is not okay,” – Carl Lehmann ’91
want to leave a building, you can’t tell them ‘no, we’re not allowing people to leave,’ that’s when we have stepped in and said ‘that’s what our policy means,’” Lehmann said.
In response, Julia Valero ’18 asked if the policy could include examples.
“You already mentioned a few concrete examples of blocking foot traffic, and I was wondering why, when you’re able to give us a few concrete examples like that, the policy can’t enumerate a few examples,” she said.
Chief Marketing Officer Katie Warren said that it was difficult to balance clarity with a policy that is digestible.
“That’s our challenge with communications, too, knowing what’s the right amount of detail, what are people going to consume,” Warren said in response to Valero’s concern. “Paragraphs and paragraphs of information typically don’t get read … but, I think your point’s a good one, and trying to find a way to illustrate what we mean by some of these policies, to give some examples is a really good idea.”
St. Olaf has seen protests every year for the past three years, and the timing of the email was no coincidence.
“Yes, the timing of this communication isn’t completely just a happenstance, I don’t want to have another situation where there’s any confusion over what is okay and what is not okay,” Lehmann said. “As we go into the spring, we go into a time when there is protest, and yes we’ve had protest for several years and I think they’ve all been for different issues.”