Tear down Loyola’s walls against free speech

February 23, 2017

Jim Plank reports on a student struggle against restrictions put on progressive groups and their right to organize at Chicago's Loyola University.

LOYOLA UNIVERSITY students organizing for a variety of progressive goals, from women's rights to justice for campus workers, are now at the center of their own struggle to overturn bureaucratic restrictions on their right to free speech and assembly.

In the aftermath of Donald Trump's election victory, students around the country recognized the urgency of organizing in solidarity with those who are the target of Trump's attacks. But in many places, they are facing increased barriers to protesting, as universities place further restrictions on the right to organize--even while administrators claim their campuses to be bastions of free speech.

At Loyola, several organizations--including Students for Reproductive Justice, Students for Worker Justice, Students Organizing for Syria and the Loyola Socialists--recently initiated a campaign in defense of students' right to organize. The groups' petition has already been signed by more than 250 students, faculty, staff and alumni.

Trump's election has transformed the political climate at Loyola. As the new administration targets immigrants and refugees, women, LGBTQ people, people of color, union members and low-wage workers, many students are looking for avenues to effectively organize and resist--and for spaces to discuss political alternatives to a system of racism, sexism, xenophobia, poverty and war.

Students at Loyola University rally in solidarity with the Mizzou football team's strike against racism
Students at Loyola University rally in solidarity with the Mizzou football team's strike against racism (The Loyola Phoenix)

On Inauguration Day, more than 200 students rallied, marched and briefly occupied the student center--to denounce Trump and to demand that Loyola's administration declare the school a sanctuary for its undocumented students and workers.

Groups of Loyola students participated in the Women's March and the protests at O'Hare International Airport against Trump's Muslim ban, and a number of meetings have been held on campus to discuss next steps in pushing to make Loyola a sanctuary campus for immigrants.

Unfortunately, Loyola's administration has thrown up significant barriers to students organizing to discuss, strategize and speak out. The administration's policies around reserving rooms, publicizing meetings and tabling on campus make it very difficult for any group of students which does not have recognized student organization (RSO) status to do any of these things.

THE UNIVERSITY'S "solicitation policy" defines "promotion of an idea" as solicitation, which is subject to regulation and approval by the Dean of Students. In effect, any group of students whose political message isn't sanctioned by the university is prevented from communicating publicly or organizing freely.

What you can do

Sign this petition calling on the Loyola University administration to stop obstructing the right of student groups to organize on campus.

The Loyola Socialists, a campus branch of the International Socialist Organization, recently applied for and were denied RSO status by the university. And the ISO isn't the only organization on campus that isn't officially recognized. Loyola's hostility to activist organizations fighting for progressive change has a well-documented recent history.

Students for Worker Justice and Students for Reproductive Justice, both of whom have ongoing campaigns targeting the university's hypocritical anti-worker and anti-woman policies, aren't recognized by the university and have faced bureaucratic obstacles.

In addition, the administration has treated recent successful unionization campaigns by graduate employees and non-tenured faculty with outright hostility.

Loyola Students for Justice in Palestine had their RSO status revoked for a whole year following a spontaneous demonstration in the student center against the anti-Palestinian Birthright organization. And in 2015, the administration threatened three students with suspension for organizing a 700-strong Black Lives Matter demonstration on campus.

The arbitrary application of Loyola University's bureaucratic standards around student organizations and the onerous rules applied to groups of students who wish to organize are a significant curtailment of free assembly, free association and free speech.

Those of us who organize on college campuses need to fight against bureaucratic restrictions on free speech and the right to assemble, which always have and always will be used against those who challenge the administration's right to run our universities like corporations.

Further Reading

From the archives