Administration restricts free speech by punishing student activists

Letter to the Editor

Administrators seek to discipline me and eight other students for speaking during a protest at Waterman.

Their actions are baseless, hypocritical and an assault to freedom of speech.

Administrators claim our protest harmed the community, citing the definition of “disruption” under UVM’s policy for campus demonstrations as evidence.

But if you read the policy, it’s clear our protest did not violate this policy.

We didn’t threaten violence or endanger anyone’s health or safety.

We didn’t damage property, nor did we interfere or obstruct school activities.

Folks were able to enter and exit Waterman with ease.

I know this last fact intimately, as I navigated the space in a wheelchair just fine.

All we did was gather near stairs and speak through a megaphone.

It would seem that, in effect, administrators believe free speech is disruption.

And if they take issue with our use of the megaphone, they are inconsistent in applying this policy.

They didn’t discipline students during last year’s Waterman rally.

They also didn’t discipline Richard Cate, vice president of finances, who spoke through a megaphone during a Waterman rally in 2009.

This is bias.

Apparently, administrators can have voices in Waterman, but students can’t.

It’s worth noting that UVM markets itself as a school that encourages students to tackle issues in social justice.

Yet when we do, we are punished.

Likewise, it’s worth noting that only those who are female, queer or students of color are being punished.

The other speaker, who is a white cisgender straight male, is not being charged.

In fact, during the protest, administrators harassed NoNames for Justice and the Black Student Union into ending the event early.

And, despite NoNames and the BSU complying, they still seek to punish students.

Furthermore, as a Lead Resident Adviser and proponent of restorative practice, which is a method of resolving conflict through empathy, common ground and nurturing relationships, I found their letter to us repulsive.

This letter uses restorative practice to hide their goal of silencing student dissent.

They wish to have their cake and eat it too.

Administrators claim community impact so they can impact the community.

Professors and students weren’t impacted. The only thing impacted was administrative ego.

No professor or student filed any complaint.

We are being charged solely on the whims of Vice Provost of Student Affairs Annie Stevens and Director of Student Life Daphne Wells, who attended the rally so they could write incident reports.

This must stop.

Students want to learn, professors want to teach. But I have no idea what the administration wants.

They’re not acting in the interests of professors, students or staff.

Their actions alone prove they are out of touch with those they hope to govern.

I called for an open forum in my last op-ed.

Now we’re being disciplined for having a voice.

By assaulting our freedom of speech, administrators are showing us they don’t want to listen.

They want us to submit.

Our board of trustees already snatched more power by appointing a new president without our consent.

Add to that the recent national college admissions bribery scandal, and it seems the entire concept of higher education needs reexamination.

We have no way to check the administration.

Even when we’re found innocent, our conduct hearings will be on our record.

Administrators will have harmed students on false allegations.

And Stevens and Wells will face no repercussion for their actions.

It’s time we rethink what role administrators play at UVM and consider restructuring how our University is governed.

We must hold our board of trustees and administrators accountable.

We cannot allow them to amass more power.

We cannot allow squashing dissent and regulating speech to become normal.


Seth Wade