Free Speech on Campus (Or, Lack Thereof)

Just recently, the President of a club I’m in asked me to meet him at La Fun so we could get promotional materials approved by SAO for our upcoming event. At first, I didn’t think twice about it—this was something I had done before and it’s simply club protocol. But after the meeting, it dawned on me how odd it was that we just had to get shirts that our club was paying for approved by the University. And while this has no direct implications on my life, it got me thinking about how these confining rules manifest in other ways on campus. So, naturally, I consulted Notre Dame’s second most favorite book (after the Bible, of course): du Lac. What other rules are stopping students from expressing themselves freely on campus? 

women fists raised in air

The first regulation that caught my eye is concerned with posters and advertising on campus. Du Lac says “All recognized student group print materials must receive a stamp from the Student Activities Office indicating the group is a recognized student group…[advertising] must reflect good taste.” First off, this is such a strict rule already in that every single thing you print for your student organization must be approved by SAO. Second, it must “reflect good taste?" In whose opinion? This is an insane limit to a group’s expression. If a club wants to print materials to express any sort of opinion contrary to the University’s beliefs, it’s more likely than not that they won’t get approved. 

Another thing that I’ve noticed is how apolitical this campus is. Last semester, my friends and I visited the University of Michigan during fall break to see the Notre Dame game (which I have since blocked out of my memory). During our free time, we walked around Ann Arbor and happened upon an anti-Trump rally with loud music and those typical politically-witty signs you see at protests. It occurred to me that I’ve never seen anything like this on Notre Dame’s campus (I’m not counting the “protest” to the senior exclusion policy outside the Dome last year). Turns out, in regard to demonstrations on campus, du Lac states that “all demonstrations must be registered in writing with the Vice President for Campus Safety and University Operations.” This is followed by a few rules regarding these demonstrations, including that they must be “peaceful and orderly.” This is not free speech. These sanctions ensure that any protests or demonstrations that could possibly happen are ones that the administration is okay with, and this leads to the apolitical atmosphere here at Notre Dame.

The freedom to truly express yourself without censorship, which includes being a part of groups where you can convey your passions and beliefs, is such an integral part of one’s college experience. Especially in light of the recent student body elections and the annual “Inclusive Campus Student Survey,” diversity is evidently one of the main issues on this campus that people are trying to address. But rules like these in du Lac only enforce the cultural monotony that is so evident on this campus. How are activist groups on campus supposed to voice their message if it doesn’t “reflect good taste?" Are we allowed to protest about how parietals enforce heteronormativity and student exclusion? Being denied these freedoms by the University inhibits the growth of our student body as individuals and as a whole. We should be allowed to print whatever messages we want or “demonstrate” about whatever we want without University approval. As the administration continues to infringe upon our first amendment, they are only contributing more to the uniformity of Notre Dame’s student body.