VCU To Revise Controversial Proposed Policy
Vicki Yeroian of VCU Young Democrats counterdemonstrates against an on-campus anti-abortion protest.
Virginia Commonwealth University will revise a section in the Student Code of Conduct pertaining to demonstrations after student LGBT and political activists raised concerns that it potentially limited students’ freedom of assembly.
The wording that precipitated the controversy banned “[p]articipating in an on-campus or off-campus demonstration, riot or activity that disrupts the normal operations of the University and/or infringes on the rights of others; leading or inciting others to disrupt scheduled and/or normal activities within any campus building or area.” VCU Young Democrats president Vicki Yeroian said that she found the wording extremely problematic. “Demonstration and activity, what does that mean? Does a silent, peaceful vigil or protest get included, even though there is no noise coming from the ‘activity?’” said Yeroian. “The wording is too vague for our first amendment rights to be realistically protected.”
While Yeroian conceded the need for prohibiting riots on-campus, she also expressed concerns about the Code of Conduct’s attempt to regulate off-campus activity. “Off-campus riots are part of what the student does independently and away from campus,”she said. “The university does not have to babysit its students like a highschool does; we are actual adults that should be allowed to go where we want, when we want, without fear of being reprimanded by their university.”
Nicholas DeFilippis, a member of VCU’s chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, has planned a demonstration against the wording for Friday, April 13, which he said is still scheduled. “It’s important to note that the protest is neither solely nor mostly about VCU, but rather about all of the recent attacks on our Constitutional right to peaceful assembly,” DeFilippis said. “When regular people organize and demand better treatment, it threatens those who profit by taking away our rights and financial stability.”
Dr. Charles Klink, VCU’s Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs, said that the wording was never meant to imply that peaceful demonstrations would be restricted. “We have gotten many comments about that particular part of the code,” Klink said. “The way that it was written, it certainly wasn’t intended to have a chilling effect on peaceful demonstrations or picketing or boycotting.”
Klink said that the mention of demonstrations and riots together was partly to blame for the controversy. “The intent of it was to address riotous behavior, and so I think it became very clear once we put it up for comment that combining thosetwo things was confusing to people and not the way to go,” Klink said, “so I think that when we revise this, we’ll talk more about riotous behavior that can endanger other people or property, and certainly have an affirmation that we support peaceful dissent, demonstrations, that kind of thing.”
DeFilippis said that even with the revisions, the activist community needed to remain vigilant. “We cannot be sure what [VCU’s] intentions are, but we could possibly have to fight this battle again,” DeFilippis said. “That is why we are protesting this Friday, so we don’t have to keep fighting about this. We want VCU, the legislatures, as well as the Capitol and State Police to know that we are organized, we are watching, and we aren’t going to let them pull a fast one on us.”
Zack Budryk, a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, has been writing since age 10 working towards a career of advocacy-based investigative journalism.
“Somehow I learned that I belonged with my people and that I had a responsibility to contribute to them.”October 20, 2015
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