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Protesters organize against Ohio U Freedom of Expression policy

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Ohio University students and faculty and Athens community members took to the streets of Athens on Friday as part of the the Y(OU) Can't Silence Dissent protest. Photo by Marilyn Icsman.

Ohio University students and faculty and Athens community members took to the streets of Athens on Friday as part of the the Y(OU) Can’t Silence Dissent protest.

A group of approximately 150 protesters assembled on the steps of the Athens County Clerk of Courts Friday evening to protest Ohio University’s new interim policies that critics have accused of restricting free speech on campus.  

Protesters later led a march across campus before ending the night at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on College Green.

Protesters present were not necessarily associated with any political groups on campus. instead protest organizer Madhulika Pesala describes participants as “individuals opposed to Ohio University policies 24.014 & 24.016, and the general suppression and policing of leftist speech.”

But several members of the Athens chapter of the International Socialist Organization were among the protesters. Members of the ISO were at the protest holding a banner that promoted their organization, and several protesters also held signs with the group’s solidarity symbol.  

Regardless of political affiliation, protesters shared a common goal that was echoed in a recent letter to the editor sent to The New Political.

“The goal … is to begin building a movement in order to get the university to rescind its ‘freedom of expression’ policy, as well as its policy regulating the use of outdoor space,” Daniel Kington, media contact for the ISO, said on Thursday.

The Athens Police Department was also present at the protest.  Around 12 officers watched and followed the protest from a distance as the night continued.  

Tom Pyle, the Athens Chief of Police, said that the APD was there “for safety reasons”.

Protesters took note of the police presence throughout the night.

“They never really say anything to anyone, that just kind of stand and gaze at a distance,” said protester Protestors resisted Ohio U policies at the Y(OU) Can't Silence Dissent protest. Photo by Marilyn Icsman.Olivia Stefanoff. “I think it’s just all in intimidation.”

Moments before the protest was scheduled to begin, a masked counter-protester in a Trump t-shirt appeared across the street holding a sign that disparaged members of the protest, including the slogan “commie lives don’t matter.”  He later left after attempting to use his car horn to drown out the sound of the speakers at the protest.  

As the official protest began, organizers invited up a variety of speakers that ranged from Ohio U faculty to students. Ohio U professors Ziad Abu-Rish, Catherine Euler, and Louis-Georges Schwartz all gave short speeches about topics ranging from Ghandi to the role of police in society.  

In addition, graduate student activist Jolana Ozara gave a short speech about the Black Lives Matter movement.

After hearing from these first four speakers, protesters left the steps of the Courthouse and  marched through campus leading chants such as “Where is Jenny Hall-Jones?” and “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here”.

After marching through campus, the protest ended the night at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on College Green where they heard from two more former and current student activists.  

The first speaker, Prince Shakur, graduated from Ohio U in 2015.  He spoke of his activism while he was a student and his experiences protesting against the Dakota Pipeline.  

The second speaker, Dylan Vanover, a member of the ISO and current undergraduate student at Ohio U, spoke about the protesters’ demands and the consequences for the administration not meeting them.

“If Duane Nellis doesn’t completely repeal this policy by November 8th, and put nothing in its place, then everybody, students and faculty, are going on strike,” Vanover said.

As the night drew to an end, members of the protest were seen giving out flyers promoting an upcoming art exhibition that features the “hanging” of the Confederate Flag.

The period for public feedback on Ohio U’s controversial new policies came to an end on Friday.  At the time of reporting, it is unknown if these policies will be rescinded or instated.    

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