Non-college group activity limitations don’t prevent protestors from practicing their freedom of speech

In addition to ensuring no interference with educational activities, the public forums Washington Administrative Code (WAC) was revised last year by the Board of Trustees last March.

Vice President for Administrative Services, Nancy McKinney said last spring, student complaints about protesters making them feel uncomfortable while on their way to class encouraged the Board of Trustees to make already past due revisions to the code.

According to Student Senator for Diversity and Equity, Rebekah Hutson, students complained last year about one religious protester in particular. But despite their concerns with him, the protester was within the bounds of free speech.

According to Hutson many LGBTQ identified people felt uncomfortable by his discriminatory speech and signs, but there was nothing that could be done. “He was never actually threatening anybody or harassing people,” she said.

In response to the protester’s presence on campus last year Director of Diversity and Equity, Eileen Yoshina, sent out an all staff and faculty email about how many students felt that the protesters’ message was borderline harassment. His signs according to Yoshina condemned “abortionists”, “church gossips”, and “homosexuals”, as well as others.

The protester has returned for the new school year, joined by a few recruits, and will most likely continue to practice his freedom of speech.
“He has to notify us and tell us that he’s going to be on campus, and he knows what those rules are. He’s been in to talk to us in person before. He is voluntarily giving us more information than what he’s required to do,” said SPSCC Director of Security Lonnie Hatman.

Professor and BRICK Advisor, David Hyde, said the new policy does a good job protecting each individual’s First Amendment rights by avoiding discrimination on standpoints and content of speech.

However, Hyde said, “The initial proposal regarding ‘limited public forums’ was problematic and I believe ran afoul of the First Amendment. After several students and others expressed concerns at a Board of Trustees meeting, the college substantially altered the proposal and crafted a new policy.”

“I appreciate that the college heard and responded both to me and several students from BRICK…Even (especially) speech we find offensive is protected by the First Amendment and vital in a college environment, ‘a marketplace of ideas,’” said Hyde.

“I’m a pretty radical absolutist when it comes to free speech, and I don’t find the new policy offensive, overbroad, or unconstitutional…I believe the new policy preserves those essential freedoms while providing some practical limitations to maintain college operations,” said Hyde.

Non-college groups have limits on time, on size of signs, limits on bullhorns and other sound amplification equipment, and restrictions on overnight camping. Events must abide by any other college rules and regulations, as well as college, local, state and/or federal laws.

Non-college groups are also only allowed to have activities between buildings 22 and 27, and near the pond by Building 31.

Along with SPSCC other community colleges whose cities were highly active in the Occupy movement, such as Spokane and Seattle, have recently made camping on campus illegal.

Non-college groups are also required to provide such information as the name, address and telephone number of the sponsoring organization, the purpose of the event, the estimated number of people expected to participate, and if any bullhorns or other sound amplification devices are to be used.

The non-college events cannot last longer than five hours, while college group events can last a total of eight hours.

For students who feel targeted, Yoshina requested in her email that college employees refer students to the Diversity and Equity Center in Building 27 or to the Safe Zones on campus designed to provide individuals with a friendly and safe place on campus.

On each floor of every building there is a designated staff person who has taken Safe Zone training. Safe Zones are for individuals who feel their wellbeing has been threatened or if they feel targeted by bigotry.

Other colleges have experienced groups that target certain individuals. The University of Washington has played reluctant host to anti-abortion groups who show graphic photos of fetuses since at least the 1990s. The Evergreen State College also receives such groups on campus, but recently has started offering counseling to students who are disturbed by the imagery.

For more information on Safe Zones and where you can find them visit the SPSCC webpage.
The new policy can be found on the Washington State Legislature’s webpage under WAC 132, “Use of Facilities for First Amendment Activities” and “Additional Requirements for Noncollege Groups.”