PRIDE! Kent discusses appropriate protesting at Thursday’s meeting

Nicholas Garisto Women and Gender Issues Reporter

PRIDE! Kent voiced concerns over what is considered acceptable, academic speech on campus to the Division of Student Affairs during Thursday night’s meeting.

PRIDE! Kent president Brandon Stephens expressed the fear many LGBTQ students are having due to the increased forcefulness of protesters, demonstrators and speakers he and other PRIDE! executives have witnessed on campus in the last couple of year.

“We’ve noticed these protesters and demonstrators are getting more forceful and it’s starting to disrupt our way of life here at the university,” Stephens said.

Disrupting student life on campus through demonstrations, marches and speakers  is a violation of university policy [administrative policy 4-03.1] Jennifer Kulics, Dean of Students at the Division of Student Affairs and Dr. Shay Little, Interim Vice President of the Division of Student Affairs, said students should speak up when that policy is violated so appropriate action can be taken to remove those individuals off campus.

“We want students to be safe physically, emotionally, and mentally, so enforcing these policies is a very delicate balance of how all these issues come together,” Little said. “On one hand you have these individuals who have a right to speak out, and on the other hand everyone in the community has the right to be in a safe place.”

Campus grounds are not a “free-for-all” said Kulics. There are registrations and screenings that take place in order for the university’s core values to be upheld. Whether certain speakers uphold those values is up for debate.

Umar Johnson’s recent controversial speech on Feb. 8 at the Kiva sparked a lot of talk on what constitutes the university’s core values of respectful discourse. Many audience members did not consider Johnson’s rhetoric to be respectful, but the environment in which his speech took place was, and that is what the Division of Student Affairs controls.

“What we do is try to treat it [speeches] as respectful and purposeful as we can…to control what we can control but as far as content of what comes out of his [Johnson’s] mouth, we can’t control that and that is where we are vulnerable,” said Kullics.

Kulics said they [Division of Student Affairs] were looking at the free exchange of ideas through respective and purposeful dialogue and there were many people who believe there was purpose in his speech but deciding what that purpose is, is completely subjective.

“He [Johnson] brought us together to have this dialogue [on speakers values] and that was part of the purpose… I think it was worth it because maybe we wouldn’t be in front of you having this discussion,” Kulics said, “maybe we should be thinking in a different lens,” in order for purposeful dialogue to continue.

Stephens spoke of how the administration makes sure the core values are held up by every student organization. He summed up many PRIDE! members thoughts for the night with his closing remarks. 

“I think that while most of us [PRIDE! members] are disappointed in the decision that was made… I think that tonight we are finally at a place to have a civil discourse that we needed because it is the purpose of higher education,” Stephens said, “We may all have been pissed off about this speaker that came to campus, it allowed us to come together tonight and share with one another how we feel.”