Decoding Disruption

On August 31, students received an email from the Dean of Student Affairs informing them about an “Updated Code of Conduct.” The new code included a revision to the policy that impacts how students organize on campus.

“Active citizenship, including exercising free speech and engaging in protests, gatherings, and demonstrations, is a vital part of the Tufts community,” the policy reads. “Students engaging in protests, gatherings, or demonstrations are expected to conduct themselves responsibly and in accordance with Tufts standards of behavior.”

“Any event that occurs on campus and is expected to attract more than 25 people—including a protest, gathering, or demonstration—must be registered in advance and approved through the event registration process managed by the Office for Campus Life (OCL),” it continues.

But activism depends on a feeling of urgency—it runs on a quick sense of time. Protests often involve a gathering of people who come together to mourn, to heal, and in many cases, to respond to a call to action.

It comes as no surprise that many institutional changes throughout Tufts’ history are a product of the sweat, tears, and exhaustion of student organizers in past and recent years.

The pre-orientation program you were able to attend because of waived costs, as well as the increase in your paycheck, both come from efforts of #TheThreePercent protests that occurred fall of 2015.

In the Spring of 2018, hundreds of students rallied in support of a union for Tufts Dining workers, who are now in the process of contract negotiations with the administration.

The 2011 creation of the Africana Studies program—which has since become a central place of community in the academic world for many students—is a direct product of the work of the Pan-African Alliance who gathered over 80 students to occupy administrative offices.

In all of these cases, students came together, protested, and fought for what they needed in order to exist on this campus. These are changes that, in many ways, might not have been possible under the revised student code of conduct.

Furthermore, there are many questions surrounding why the policy changes came about, where the sudden need for revision sprouted from, and whether or not it detracts from the purpose of students’ need to protest.

An anonymous senior and student organizer in the dining demonstrations that took place last semester, feels as though the new code of conduct speaks to Tufts’ failure to prioritize its students.

“My initial thoughts were that Tufts doesn’t seem to actually want to follow through on its promises and its image of being a campus open to civic engagement and political activism,” he said. He adds that this is another instance in which “Tufts has decided that it wants to put its corporate interests ahead of the welfare of students, workers, and professors on campus and its supposed values of free speech and civic engagement.”

Speaking to his experiences protesting on campus, the student noted the importance of responding to events in real time, and how the new code of conduct jeopardizes that.

“In the context of dining workers, there were some workers that felt intimidated and scared by managers about unionizing, so a group of us students went to talk to managers and told them our concerns,” he described. “That was a response to an emergency. That was a response to something that is really wrong. In context of the new student code of conduct, these kinds of things could not happen.”

Caila Bowen, a senior and primary organizer of #TheThreePercent protests, shares a similar sentiment: “Tufts boasts about civic engagement, often using it as a calling card of sorts, and yet they expect it to be neat and concealed and respectable to the institution,” Bowen explained.

Bowen argues that many demonstrations could not have occurred in a “neat and concealed and respectable” manner, but that “Tufts has no problem with reaping the benefits years later.”

Dean of Student Affairs Mary-Pat McMahon said that the revision to the policy is meant to ensure the safety of Tufts students, as well as reconcile the relationship between administration and students by making the protest process more communicative between the two parties.

“If someone is planning a big event and there might be counter protesters or need for security details we want to be able to make sure that the support is there,” McMahon explained.

McMahon also emphasized that preserving the safety of students was a driving force for the conduct change. Following the events at the University of Virginia during the Unite the Right rally in August of 2017, Tufts is one of a number of schools reevaluating the needs for safety on its campus, which include needs for police and methods for dealing with counter protests.

“What we’ve seen on other campuses is that there have been significant safety concerns for students and other members of their community,” McMahon stated. “The goal is to provide safety, support, and help with logistics without having a referendum of good protests, bad events, or otherwise.”

However, safety in students’ lives on campus is an issue that goes beyond registering protests. Many have also questioned the police presence on campus. During #TheThreePercent protests, students demanded an end to the racial profiling of Black students on campus, particularly at predominantly Black events. Although some of the demands were met, and there are no longer metal detectors at predominantly Black functions, there are still students who avoid taking SafeRides and squirm at the sight of TUPD officers. Our safety needs as students are complex, and our definitions of what safety feels like and looks like cannot be muddled down into a revised student code of conduct.

“In a way, [the revised student code of conduct] makes me feel less safe, because if there was anything that ever happened to me and people needed to organize in an emergency, the university might retaliate,” the anonymous senior expressed. “If anything, TUPD being there doesn’t make a lot of students feel safe.”

As of now, there is no concrete list of consequences for when a student breaks the new code of conduct. McMahon stated that she hopes it will be a communicative process between students and administration.

Students do not protest for fun—we protest in order to be able to exist freely on campus. It is often not a cooperative process because protest by nature speaks to the lack of action on administration’s end to ensure student safety and comfort. It certainly cannot be subjugated nor reduced to a mandatory registering process at least five business days in advance.

“Protest is about disruption,” Bowen asserted. “It is about shaking up the status quo. It is about not asking, but demanding, because in the past, asking has gotten you nowhere.”

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