Policies Define Expression

The Office of Residential Living and the Division of Student Affairs clarified their policies against hanging banners, flags and clothing outside windows and chalking on buildings in two university-wide emails this month, the former of which prompted concerns over their infringement on the Speech and Expression Policy.

In an email dated Oct. 22, Vice President of Student Affairs Todd Olson said that recently, there have been more instances of chalking on inappropriate locations, such as campus buildings.

“There has been an increase in the number of instances of chalking on buildings, resulting in the need for more frequent removal and maintenance,” Olson wrote. “This damages and degrades campus buildings.”

According to the email sent by the Office of Residential Living on Oct. 20, banners, flags and clothing cannot hang outside any window of a university-owned residential facility, including student room and apartment windows.

Director of Residential Education Ed Gilhool said the ban on hanging items outside of building windows is consistent with the posting and window display policy that Georgetown has had in place for over seven years.

“Students are permitted to display items from within their rooms, visible to the outside, so long as they are consistent with the university’s speech and expression guidelines,” Gilhool said. “Hanging or placing items outside of windows is first and foremost a safety concern.”

Georgetown University Student Association Secretary for Free Speech Sam Kleinman (COL ’16), who is one of three students on the Speech and Expression Committee, said the ban is a violation of students’ freedom of expression.

“I don’t see any compelling reasons regarding safety to ban hanging things from windows,” Kleinman wrote in an email to The Hoya.

Kleinman encouraged students who are told to remove anything hanging from their windows to send a complaint to the Speech and Expression Committee.

The Speech and Expression Policy makes one reference to windows, under a section entitled “Exterior Flyers and Marketing.”

“Materials may be posted only on walls (not windows and doors) and only in designated areas,” the policy reads.

Olson’s email, which outlined the university policy on chalking in Red Square, reiterated that while chalking is allowed on the brick pavers, it is not permitted on the exterior walls of campus buildings under the Speech and Expression Policy.

According to Olson, the policy and the recent emails do not violate students’ freedom of expression.

“I believe this policy respects students’ rights to free expression, because there are plenty of places to chalk on the ground, and also places to post flyers [and] signs around campus,” Olson wrote in an email to The Hoya.

Several offices collaborate to manage this policy, including the Division of Student Affairs, the Office of Planning and Facilities Management and the Office of the Provost.

This email was prompted in part by a recent incident in which Georgetown for Bernie, a student group in support of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chalked the outside wall of the Intercultural Center with slogans in support of Sanders.

Co-chair of Georgetown for Bernie Caleb Weaver (SFS ’16) said that the group had violated the Speech and Expression Policy.

“This slip-up was totally our fault,” Weaver wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We assumed it was ok to chalk there and encouraged the members to do so. We didn’t know it was against the Speech and Expression Policy.”

According to the policy, chalking in inappropriate locations or with the wrong type of material that results in damage to university property will require restitution from the responsible party.

Weaver said that while the group has not received a specific response from the administration regarding the chalking, it regrets the mistake.

“We apologize profusely for making more work for the facilities workers,” Weaver wrote. “We’ll avoid the error going forward.”

Kleinman said that he agreed with the chalking policy.

“Because a building could be damaged if everyone chalked the edifice often, it’s fairly reasonable to ban folks from chalking on buildings,” Kleinman wrote.

The Speech and Expression Policy was created in 1989 in response to an increased spate of bias-related incidents. It was written by Rev. James Walsh, S.J., who died this July.

Since 1989, the policy has been periodically revised by the Speech and Expression Committee. This group is comprised of four undergraduate students, one graduate student, appropriate staff from the Division of Student Affairs and four faculty or academic administrators.

The committee advises the vice president for student affairs and makes decisions regarding amendments and clarifications on the policy. It also reviews complaints and refers them to a sanctioning body.

The university’s stance on chalking dates from the document’s creation and has remained largely unchanged with the exception of a memorandum in 2014.

Kleinman said that most issues regarding free speech in the past have been caused by the policy’s enforcement rather than its actual content.

“For the most part, the policy is reasonable in its restrictions of speech,” Kleinman wrote. “It does not differ significantly from the rights you have on municipal property.”


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