Free Speech Flap Ending

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It appears a new Southern Oregon University campus policy involving freedom of speech will be in order before winter break. It comes in the wake of a handful of students asking for petition signers outside the so-called “Free Speech Zone.” A video showing some Southern Oregon University staffers suggesting the students stop because it was against policy went viral and raised questions about an old policy established years ago during the first Iraq war when there were concerns about outside demonstrators on campus.

The group of politically active SOU students worked with the university administration to draw up a new set of rules for groups wanting to speak, demonstrate or spread a message. The old policy was criticized when these same students posted the video on Youtube of them handing out constitutions and gaining signatures down by the Hawk in Raider Village. This area had not previously been designated as a “Free Speech Zone”. The group featured in the video are part of the SOU branch of the Students for Concealed Carry. The S.C.C. is a nationwide, non-partisan organization that is student run and advocates legal concealed carry of firearms on college campuses.

Though this particular group identified themselves as the S.C.C. leaders of the group Dylan Bloom and Jordan Mortimore, explained that guns were not the issue at hand at this point. The video reached over 100,000 views on YouTube and received threatening comments directed at the school as well as at administration. Both students in speaking with The Siskiyou said they wanted to work with the university in creating a new policy around free speech and that is their current focus. SOU was quick to defuse the media frenzy with a press release saying they were excited to work towards a new policy as well.

The current campus “Free Speech Zone” is located in front of the Stevenson Union and was originally created in 2003 to keep protesters of the Iraq war from disrupting classes. However, since this latest incident, the school administration has kept their promise to meet with the students and the joined forces have crafted a new policy that the students see as completely compliant with the constitution. “This was never a problem before so no one ever examined it,” said Mortimore .

The drafters of these new rules used Oregon State University’s policy for free speech rules as a template and made adjustments to work for SOU. The policy has been finalized but is in the process of being voted through a few different committees before the president can sign it.

“Some of the things (in the draft) were repeating what the Supreme court has ruled on including what is defined as harassment, not interrupting classes and clarification of obstructing pathways.” Bloom explained.  A key difference in the SOU policy is that, unlike Oregon State, groups are not required to ask for permission from the heads of departments before demonstrating, but are advised to inform them courteously.

One major concern of drafting the policy was that the new free speech laws would protect hate groups coming onto campus, but a direct clause in the proposed policy says; “The right of free speech and expression does not protect expression that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it can be said to constitute unlawful harassment, which interferes with the students access to the educational opportunities or benefits provided by SOU.”

“The upper administration is very enthusiastic about finishing this up,” Bloom stated before the end of our meeting,“ they reached out to us and said “We want to resolve this. We want something that’s going to be right for our new policy.”