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Policies require organizations to register for free speech in Dunn Meadow


By Bailey Loosemore



In the 1960s, Dunn Meadow was the place where protests could occur with or without notice, said former Dean of Students Richard McKaig. And it still is.

“At any time, an organization or student may exercise his/her right to free speech in Dunn Meadow and at the Sample Gates. No reservation forms are necessary. Dunn Meadow is the only space on campus designated by the IU Board of Trustees as a spontaneous free speech area,” according to IU’s Policy on Free Speech.

However, policies requiring student organizations to register before conducting demonstrations or other events have sprung up since 1962 — the year the meadow was designated as a free speech zone — causing some student organizations to question the Student Activities Office’s guidelines and procedures.

“Students or student organizations planning a protest march or demonstration on campus should contact the Student Activities Office 24 hours in advance of the proposed march to discuss applicable University policies and to confirm the line of march,” according to the Student Organization Handbook.

“What if two groups wanted to be there at the same time?” McKaig said. “There were good reasons for scheduling the meadow, but scheduling protests also doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

So, when does a protest become an event that groups must register?

“Any outdoor event sponsored by a student organization on University property must be registered with and approved by Student Activities,” according to Space Reservation Policies in the IU Student Organization Handbook.

But are protests included in the term “outdoor event?”

“If they bring in a table or display, that might be going over free speech protections,” McKaig said, in which case the group would have to register.

Organizations are requested to register an event at least seven business days prior to the date and 10 days if the event requires security, according to the outdoor campus event registration form.

There are also security and temporary food request forms and vehicular access requests students must fill out, if needed.

In 1986, the University made another rule: Sleeping was not a form of protest.

“You have to stay with the displays overnight as opposed to just erecting something and walking away,” McKaig said. “But free speech doesn’t end at midnight and start at six in the morning. Who’s checking at three in the morning to see if someone’s sleeping or carrying their protest sign? Freedom of speech rights aren’t bound by the clock.”

While most forms are easily accessible, the Student Organization Handbook is unclear about who approves the event or display.

The handbook states, “After submission of the appropriate form, the student will be directed to the proper location for final approval of the space reservation.”

Senior Nick Zolfo, the help desk assistant at SAO, said a campus-wide committee approves the events and displays. The committee members selected depend on the nature of the event.

He could not give specific names of committee members.

Chris Kase, president of the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals, said when trying to plan a display for the Transgender Day of Remembrance through her organization, she questioned how the demonstrations were approved.

“You have to get permission,” she said. “You have to go fill out paperwork and turn in a sheet that says what you’re doing. “So who’s the board? Who are these people that are approving it? I had just started this organization, so I didn’t know anything.”

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