The Occupy movement that has swept the nation—and the world—also has a home at many colleges and universities. Long associated with protests, and historically touted as the home of open discourse, American colleges and universities have had a difficult balancing act on their hands: how to promote free speech while maintaining safety on campus.
This issue gained attention after members of the University of California, Davis Police Department pepper sprayed student protestors on November 18—an incident for which University of California President Mark G. Yudof has since created a task force to investigate.
Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs at Duke, says the campus is the place where protests like the Occupy movement are expected to happen.
Students at Duke set up tents and banners in front of the campus chapel in October. Moneta says Occupy Duke served as a center of the conversation—about economic disparity and other related issues—for the 30 students who regularly slept in the tents and many others as they walked by the centrally-located encampment.
“In the great spirit of dialogue and social issues that are often responded to first on campuses, this seemed a very reasonable thing for us to permit.” The protestors packed up their tents the week before finals (it’s unclear if they’ll return next semester), but no safety concerns were reported.
That wasn’t the case at Harvard, where university officials in November closed off Harvard Yard, the location its Occupy protestors had been camped out in, to the public. After observing the behavior of members of the public at a protest with Harvard and non-Harvard participants on November 9 and reviewing postings on the web urging confrontation and disruption on campus, President Drew Faust decided this was necessary for the safety of the students who live in Harvard Yard.
“The values of free speech and the commitment to the safety of students, faculty, and staff have been fundamental in our considerations,” Faust wrote in a letter to the Harvard community in late November. “Our responsibilities for the safety of the Harvard community compelled us to take measures to ensure that individuals whose intentions were not peaceful could not encamp in Harvard Yard or create an environment of violence and intimidation that would dampen everyone’s freedom.”
The web’s home base for the broader movement behind these campus protests is www.occupycolleges.org.