In the wake of Charlottesville, SIU officials say they have hate speech, violence contingency plans

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump converse with SIU freshman MiKala Barrett on Monday outside Faner Hall following the May 2 protest. One of the issues addressed in the protest was racism at SIU, much of which has concerned the controversial presidential candidate. — May 2, 2016, Carbondale, Ill.

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump converse with SIU freshman MiKala Barrett on Monday outside Faner Hall following the May 2 protest. One of the issues addressed in the protest was racism at SIU, much of which has concerned the controversial presidential candidate. — May 2, 2016, Carbondale, Ill.

By Gabby Pettyjohn

The college town of Charlottesville, Virginia became the scene of violence and chaos on Aug. 12 when a rally held by white supremacists converged on counter-protesters. This opened a national dialogue about how college campuses can — or should — handle clashes between extremists and those who oppose them.

In the last two years, SIU has seen a few protests, marches and walkouts — students held a demonstration last week to oppose cutting the Africana Studies department, a rally and a walk-out were staged following the election of President Donald Trump and, most famously, hundreds of students congregated on campus on May 2, 2016 to protest a slate of issues that included race, sexism and student debt.

None of the recent on-campus protests have turned violent, and certainly none have reached the caliber of events in Charlottesville, but it raises the question — what would university administration do if SIU was the site of an out-of-control protest?

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“There is a fine line between freedom of speech and hate speech,” said Lori Stettler, the vice chancellor of student affairs. “Once that line is crossed, there is zero tolerance.”

Stettler said the university allows peaceful protests so students and community members can exercise their right to freedom of speech, but the university has to watch all demonstrations closely to make sure protesters are not using that freedom to preach hate and cause violence.

Once the line into hate speech is crossed, Stettler said the university would bring additional campus police to the area and request aid from city and state police to get the situation under control as quickly as possible.

In the immediate moment, students in danger or near the area on campus in which the protest was being held would be warned to stay away.

Students would also be encouraged to use university psychologists and counselors following an incident of hate-speech or violent outbursts, Stettler said. Anyone that took part in a hateful demonstration would be subject to disciplinary action, which she said would be determined by university officials.

Jennifer Jones-Hall, the dean of students, said the best thing students could do in response to a protest that they do not agree with is to avoid it.

“It’s hard to walk away, but we do ask students to walk away,” she said.

Last year, the university started the discussion series Saluki Speaks, which is intended to provide students with the opportunity to learn about issues of diversity and intersectionality, Stettler said.

“Everyone should be educated on the difference between free speech and hate speech,” Stettler said. “Everybody has a right to their own opinion, and it is our responsibility to have open dialogue and conversation.”

If students do wish to organize a peaceful protest on campus, university officials advise they read the policies and procedures in the document “Demonstrations: Regulations and Procedures,” which is available on the dean of students webpage. They are also encouraged to schedule a meeting with Jones-Hall to discuss the protest and and their rights and responsibilities as demonstrators.

Staff writer Gabby Pettyjohn can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @gpettyjohn98.

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