Student protest interrupted by campus public safety

ASSOU Senator Paul Jenkins talks with CPS Director Steve Ross at Thursday's rally. Photo courtesy elizaschaaf.com

ASSOU Senator Paul Jenkins talks with CPS Director Steve Ross at Thursday's protest. Photo courtesy elizaschaaf.com

Students protesting the withdrawal of Eliza Schaaf were interrupted by Southern Oregon University campus public safety officials today.

Alissa Arp, dean of the college of arts and sciences, withdrew Schaaf, a student with Down syndrome, from her ceramics class Nov. 9. Schaaf was withdrawn because the accommodations she required disrupted and interfered with the teaching and learning environment of the instructor and other students, Arp said in a letter to Schaaf.

Mollie Mustoe, Schaaf’s classmate, is leading the campaign of support. Mustoe’s petitions and work culminated in a protest this afternoon.

“We have had enough. We are ready to see a change,” Mustoe said.

The group of 15 students gathered at the Hannon Library across from Churchill Hall displaying signs of support for Schaaf. Campus Public Safety arrived at the scene four minutes later. “We don’t have a problem with what you’re doing,” Steve Ross, director for campus public safety, said. “We have a problem with where you’re doing it at.”

Administrators told protesters the Stevenson Union courtyard was the designated “free speech zone,” Tuesday. People can gather and speak freely within the courtyard but nowhere else.

Stevenson Union Senator Paul Jenkins stated SOU is a public institution and that as long as the protestors are students, they can protest anywhere on campus. Ross then asked students for identification to prove their enrollment. “You can’t ask people for identification for free speech,” the senator said. “It is not appropriate to ask for free speech.”      The free speech zone is intended for people who are not students but still want to protest on campus, the senator said.  “I am sure there is a precedent for that,” Jenkins said. “Until we can find it, we ask to peacefully assemble and express ourselves.”

“We are not looking for trouble,” said the senator.

The director stated that Jon Eldridge, vice president of student affairs, said the students had to leave. “Jon Eldridge doesn’t set rules for Oregon,” Jenkins replied.

The protestors, who acted in accordance with section 15 of Oregon Administrative Rules, continued to ask for clarification on the rules.“If you want to suppress us, you have to show justification,” Jenkins told Ross. “If not, I just can’t accept it.”

The students were allowed to stay and Ross left to discuss the students’ right to free speech with administrators.

“We knew this would be an issue,” Jenkins said. “This is the third time administrators have called officers.”

Mustoe has collected 40 signatures, including signatures from all of the students in Schaaf’s ceramics class. She says she will continue to fight for Schaaf’s right to an education.

“We just want to create a network of communication and support,” SOU student Meryl Six said. “We are encouraging people to come together and dialogue,” Senator Aaron Fein added.

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