Members of H*yas for Choice arrived in Healy Circle at 7:30 a.m. Monday with the intent of tabling throughout the day in protest of the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life. Yet within 18 minutes, they found themselves removed and relocated outside the front gates by the Department of Public Safety.
Besides objecting to the pro-life stance of the conference, the group wished to test the Georgetown University Free Speech Policy after assertions by administrators that the policy did not disallow free speech in places other than Red Square during last Thursday’s free speech forum.
After DPS arrived on the scene, members of H*yas for Choice attempted to show officers copies of the free speech policy to avoid relocation. However, DPS maintained that H*yas for Choice could not table in Healy Circle and asked them either to relocate to Red Square or outside the front gates of the university. Group members felt that this request represented unequal treatment, especially in light of September’s “One Georgetown, One Campus” protest, which took place in Healy Circle.
“We feel that DPS enforces the free speech expression policy completely unequally across groups, that when the [One Georgetown, One Campus] group mostly made up of GUSA students was protesting, they were in Healy circle with no reservation, no trouble and when we tried to be there, they kicked us out within 18 minutes. We feel that we are targeted because of our views and our status to the university,” H*yas for Choice President Laura Narefsky (COL ’14) said.
Chief of Police Jay Gruber described the protestors as compliant, but deferred further questions to the Office of Communications.
“We were alerted via a phone call that a group had set up a table at Healy Circle,” he wrote in an email. “The group was very amenable and followed the directions of the officers.”
Although H*yas for Choice tabled in Healy Circle and not the designated free speech zone of Red Square, the nature of their tabling remained the same.
“We very specifically decided to take an action of non-violence, non-engagement, because it says in the free speech policy that you have a right to free speech as long as other people’s right to free speech is also recognized. We recognize [the conference participants’] right to free speech — all we wish is that they do the same for us,” H*yas for Choice Vice President Abby Grace (SFS ’16) said.
After H*yas for Choice moved to the front gates,GUSA President Nate Tisa (SFS ’14) advised members of the club to file a complaint with the university’s Free Speech and Expression Committee.
Students hope the appeal will help clarify the status of free speech on campus, especially in tandem with the release of a new free speech and expression policy promised by Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson at last week’s forum.
“I hope that it clears up where students can and can’t table so that it really sets a precedent for incoming classes that the entire campus is a place wheredialogue and expression are encouraged, regardless of viewpoint,” GUSA Deputy Chief of Staff and Free Speech and Expression Committee member TaneArana-Humphries (SFS ’15) said.
University spokeswoman Stacy Kerr said that the university will review the actions taken Monday.
“I understand H*yas for Choice has filed a complaint and that will be taken seriously. We are looking into the details of this to ensure our processes and policies to investigate such matters are followed,” Kerr wrote in an email.
H*yas for Choice hopes that a clarified policy would make free speech a less salient issue on campus.
“I don’t want this to become a real sticking point between student groups and the administration, but they are not enforcing the policy as it is written, they are not allowing for free and open exchange of ideas,”Narefsky said. “If that is one of the core values of the university, then they need to change their actions and they need to start respecting the rights of their students.”