Safe Spaces

It’s happened again. A group of college students was holding a rally on the quad, which they did not want interrupted, or even observed, by the media. They surrounded themselves with people who could only be described as “muscle”, who ordered anyone that appeared to be media to leave, even threatening them with citizen’s arrest and a night in the jail if they reporter continued asking questions or taking photographs. Even an outsider who wasn’t a reporter of any sort, but simply hanging out at one of the picnic tables eating his lunch was told in no uncertain terms to leave. This is simply unacceptable, and the fact that it’s becoming commonplace, hardly even noteworthy anymore, is a sign, if not of the apocalypse, or the downfall of the republic, at least of the rot that’s infecting our institutions of what is with unintentional irony called higher learning.

OK, some of you might have noticed a shortage of specifics in the above account. There’s a reason for that, and (this time, anyway) it’s not because I made the whole thing up. It’s a very accurate description, mutatis mutandis (which is Latin for “I took some liberties”1 ) of … a Koch Brothers meeting of conservative donors and activists described in this Politico article from 2011. The Kochs rented space at a resort hotel, and surrounded the spaces they were using with a large team of security. The head of hotel security ordered the Politico reporter out of the cafe where he was waiting to order lunch, and handed him over to Koch security, who made exactly the same threats mentioned above if he continued to act like a reporter. Another hotel guest, who was not a reporter, was informed that his lunch reservation had been cancelled and was advised to check out and leave immediately.2

Now, you might say that the Kochs had every right to exercise that level of control over space they’d paid for. And you’d be correct. The First Amendment does not trump the right to control access to a private space. But it’s worth reflecting that the Koch brothers and the students at Mizzou have pretty much the same approach to free speech; the salient difference is that only one of them had enough money to make it look respectable.Notes:

  1. …also Swahili for “no worries” []
  2. The Kochs seem to have a thing about eating in front of strangers. []

Staff Writer
Home Page 

Mike has been a software engineer far longer than he would like to admit. He has strong opinions on baseball, software, science fiction, comedy, contract bridge, and European history, any of which he's willing to share with almost no prompting whatsoever. ...more →

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
TwitterFacebookRedditEmailPrintFriendlyMore options

129 thoughts on “Safe Spaces

  1. It’s a bit disingenuous to draw an equivalence between a university quad and a resort hotel. Had the student rally been held in a less visible reserved space, even overzealous security (as in the Koch example) would be fairly easy to dismiss.

    Report

      • The thing is, there is usually an enormous amount of unused private space on a university campus that students can use for events like this. It isn’t a property or money issue if they had those resources available to them, and decided instead to use a very visible and public space.

        What’s the point of using space open to the public if you don’t want the public to pay attention?

        Report

    • I think its more that there is far more freak out over college kids doing this then illiberal tactics by other groups. In general college kids have far less power then rich people or politicians but we’re supposed to be all up in arms about the kids these days. And again it also depends on the actual issues the kids raise. In all the various recent college episodes there, at least to me, seems the full gamut of good points to picky complaints/ideas.

      Report

      • I don’t know what circle of people you interact with on a day to day basis, but my group talks about the insidious influence of the rich and powerful on a daily basis.

        Sounds to me like radicals on the Left and Right have more in common then both would like to admit in their willingness to control what people say/think/report on.

        Report

        • Radicals always have a lot in common. They see everything in black and white, they are absolutists, they never see the problems in their own positions and they are completely sure of themselves. Right, left and wherever libertarians fit in, the radicals are all similar.

          Report

      • I’m waiting for the Skimpier Panties for Cheerleaders Rally before I head out to the quad.

        Which reminds me . . .
        Can anyone tell me how to get to the quad?
        I missed the campus tour, because I had some very important loud to hit.

        Report

  2. Mike has a point, in that control of real property is the underlying source of power and agency throughout our society.
    All the things we call rights- speech, religion, even our person, all assume we can inhabit some space that is under our control.

    If a person has no such space, then all the “rights” become illusory.

    Report

    • The defunding that Freddy fears is apt to be selective. In my state legislature — and I have no reason to think it’s atypical — the membership from both parties is stuffed with graduates of the two flagship state universities and the public law school. The Republicans are likely to want to trim the offerings rather than cut funding broadly. Anything of the form “X studies” will be high on their list.

      Report

      • I think that is what Fredie is warning protesters about. This is going to be another arrow for potential cultural war. A two-sided sword if you will and it will be the arts and humanities that suffer the most.

        Report

  3. The selective outrage over safe spaces is crazy, as if private clubs – even private political groups – are some new-fangled postmodernist concept the universities dreamed up. Didn’t we just go through a week of Republican presidential candidates seriously arguing that unfriendly journalists must be removed from the debates for the good of party and country. Maybe these students are taking cues from them.

    Report

    • I think that my selective outrage over the safe space has more to do with the whole “moving into a public area, declaring a safe space, then calling for muscle to forcibly remove journalists from this formerly public area” thing than with the whole “but the Kochs are allowed to do that same thing in private areas!” argument.

      My problem with public urination is not the fact that urination is occurring nor should my problem with public urination imply that I, myself, do not urinate.

      Report

      • Really? Your outrage was over the fact that this journalist was intimidated off of a public side-walk? Not over the fact that he was being blocked from documenting an important political event? So if the protesters were just blocking unfriendly journalists with big umbrellas ala the Chinese, all your outrage would have dissipated?

        Report

        • If the “important political event” is happening in a private space, I can at least comprehend the argument that says “sorry, this is a private space and it’s invite only and the press isn’t invited”.

          If the important political event is happening in public and the people who are also in public start muscling people out and away? The argument that says “well, people in private do that so I don’t see what the big freaking deal is” is not an argument that I can wrap my head around.

          Really.

          Report

          • Okay, I get that. But I don’t think the outrage was about protestors impeding pedestrian traffic, it was about protesters having an anti-media attitude. And it’s part of the general ridiculing of “safe spaces” (you know, with pillows and coloring books) that are set up inside university rooms – i.e. private spaces. In fact, I’m not aware of any other instance where “safe spaces” have been public. So, sure, if your argument is safe spaces are great as long as they aren’t taking over public areas – that’s all internally consistent. But the same people who routinely ridicule private safe spaces are also routinely advocating that the mainstream media be marginalized from Republican events.

            Report

              • Yes, this is one specific case where the outrage against safe spaces is also mixed with outrage against muscling of journalists. There are dozens of other cases – the vast majority of cases – where the outrage is against private safe spaces, full stop.

                Report

                • There are dozens of other cases – the vast majority of cases – where the outrage is against private safe spaces, full stop.

                  If the point was to make a case for the importance of private safe spaces, it was really unlucky to have randomly picked this particular example instead of one of the dozens of other cases.

                  Report

                  • What example? My comment was about private clubs. Mike’s example was about a campus quad (which I took to mean an private space, and typically is). Nearly every criticism of safe spaces that I’ve read has been about how they limit the free-flow of ideas and speech. Like I said at the outset, if you want to talk about safe spaces impeding pedestrian traffic, you’re welcome to do that and I whole-heartedly agree with you that it’s a great evil. I just don’t think it’s the defining characteristic of safe spaces, YMMV.

                    Report

                    • And, again, my take on “safe spaces” is that it’s 100% okay to say “We want the Women’s Center to be a safe space” (or for whatever Person’s Center you wish to make).

                      It’s when you start taking a public place (or “public enough”, such as a college quad that is private when it comes to being able to kick homeless people out but public when it comes to being able to be there when you are a student) and start ejecting fellow students who are there, peacefully assembling in the name of “safe spaces” that I start to have a problem.

                      And we seem to be in agreement on that. Except for the idea that a better example of safe spaces should have been used for purposes of this argument, apparently.

                      Report

                  • Jaybird,

                    I’m with trizz here. Mike picked this example for a specific reason: because the so-called “no media safe space” has been loudly and vociferously condemned as an exercise in circumscribing free speech, which is a mistaken conclusion. What the kids did was attempt to enforce property rights protections which they weren’t justified in enforcing. So the mistake hasn’t been made by Mike (he’s reporting, we’re deciding) but by the folks who pointed at this example as proof (PROOF) that kids these days, and their idea of “safe spaces,” are intent on restricting speech.

                    Now, surely there are other examples in which safe spaces and speech overlap in more troubling ways (trivially, for example, trigger warnings and such), but what happened in Mizzou isn’t one of em.

                    Report

                    • the folks who pointed at this example as proof (PROOF) that kids these days, and their idea of “safe spaces,” are intent on restricting speech.

                      Oh, is that what we were doing?

                      I thought I was looking at the journalism professor who was shouting “I need some muscle over here! Get this reporter out of here!” and coming to conclusions based on that.

                      Please, let me get out of your way and allow you to continue your conversations with the people you’re talking about.

                      Report

                        • In the context of this post?

                          I was under the impression that this incident was central.

                          In the context of safe spaces in general?

                          I would be under the impression that discussion of safe spaces would allow for such things as “here’s my take on safe spaces” and arguments that follow from there.

                          If we want to just run on the whole “here’s some positions that some other people in some other place have said! Let’s have a five minutes hate!”, that’s great.

                          I’ll be in the five minutes hate scheduled for millennials these days based on some of the positions that some of them in some other place have said.

                          Oh, wait. It looks like that was cancelled because their positions are my fault too.

                          I’ll merely step aside and allow you to have the five minutes hate and I’ll apologize for getting in your way by talking about the example used in the post that inspired the comment section.

                          Report

                                • Perhaps a restatement of the arguments *ARE* in order.

                                  What are the positions against “Safe Spaces” that conservatives here have made or are making that this post is addressing?

                                  Perhaps my argument saying “no, the two things you’re comparing are not particularly comparable” is completely missing the deeper underlying point, here.

                                  So maybe if we could hammer down what we’re arguing, it might help.

                                  I’d hate to think that we agree with the exact same sentence but disagree with the word we’re emphasizing within it.

                                  Report

                                  • Ah. I think I am finally understanding where the disconnect is.

                                    I have ben assuming that this was all part of the on-going (and likely never-ending) conversation that’s been held here since at least as long as I’ve been coming to this site, about college campuses and freedom of speech and kids today and yada yada yada. But I am getting now that you’re sort of calling a time out on all that history, and wanting to just focus on this one aspect.

                                    This, of course, makes my motte & bailey point earlier somewhat moot (I think? maybe?), so I withdraw it.

                                    Report

                                    • Now I’m confused. Even when considering this incident in isolation – abstracted from any other context – Jaybird’s argument still makes no sense to me. If anything, it reinforces Mike’s point. That is, if we take it all the way down to the mere act of restricting reporter’s access then her use of force was no different in kind than that exercised by the Kochs. And we don’t think the Koch’s are engaging in censorship when they use force to keep reporters outa their conferences. (Or do we?)

                                      Report

                                    • So… no. We’re not going to hammer down what we’re arguing because we should already know what we’re arguing as it’s part of an argument that has gone on for years.

                                      Fair enough.

                                      That’s a good way to make sure that we continue to argue against strawmen, though.

                                      (Not that we don’t have a history of that either.)

                                      Report

                      • Oh, is that what we were doing?

                        Yeah. Insofar as we’re talking about Mike’s post and trizz’s comments regarding Mike’s post.

                        Of course, you can talk about whatever you want, Jaybird.

                        Report

                        • She released an official apology for her actions and resigned a post (but not her job) for what she did.

                          Should she not have apologized? Not resigned from her post?

                          After all, she could have said, “the Kochs rented a room and nobody complained about that!”

                          Report

                            • “False equivalence is a logical fallacy which describes a situation where there is a logical and apparent equivalence, but when in fact there is none.”

                              An example: While some might say that pushing little old ladies out of the way of a bus and pushing little old ladies into the way of a bus are functionally different things, others say that they both involve pushing little old ladies around.

                              Report

            • But the same people who routinely ridicule private safe spaces are also routinely advocating that the mainstream media be marginalized from Republican events.

              I’m guessing that your understanding of the ridiculing of so-called “safe spaces” is different from mine.

              I have no problem with “The Women’s Center is a safe space!” (Or the LGBT center or the Latino/a center or the Whathaveyou Center.)

              I have a problem with “The university should be a safe space!”

              Report

        • If it’s OK for a bunch of college kids to camp out in a public space & then control access to that space in any manner, then we have to be OK when other groups do it, even if we find them offensive.

          Report

              • I’m just trying to get clear on what you’re saying here Oscar. Is it that a bunch of CEOs and whatnot in Aspen can employ force to keep out reporters because they’re on private property? If so, then it’s not a speech issue but a no-trespassing issue, no?

                Report

                • Exactly.

                  Public space is public, if person A has a right to be there, person B can not deny them access for any reason.

                  I can imagine a situation that puts the question more into the realm of speech, but the fact that protesters were denying journalists access to public space does not move the question to one of speech.

                  Report

                  • However if, as Trizzlor says below, the Quad is University property reserved for members of the University, then the University could deny access to journalists from, say Fox News, but not from the student newspaper.

                    However, in that case, the choice & power to deny access likely lies with the University, not the students or faculty (i.e. members would have to petition the University to take action to deny access & are not empowered to do so at their own discretion).

                    Report

                        • Well, I think Mike’s thinking about this more along the lines of a right to privacy issue, actually – [edit; hence the analogy to the Koch Bros enforced privacy, and…] since the problem arose here when students prevented people from interviewing and reporting on them – and the extent to which the right-to-report-on-people is a speech issue or a property issue.

                          But that’s just a guess.

                          Report

                          • For example, he says that if it’s a property issue, then “the salient difference is that only one of them had enough money to make it [ie., the “muscle”] look respectable.”

                            Report

                              • Well, I think he does have a good point here. The Kochs apparently have the legitimate authority to have reporters kicked out of hotels and restaurants under a “private property” justification which no one apparently thinks twice about. I mean, it’s not like they were kicking out Jews or blacks, ya know [add: which we DO atleast think twice, sometimes more than twice, about]?

                                Report

                                • Oh, THAT!

                                  Yeah, that was BS, both for the Kochs (or their staff) asking for it, and the specific property owners bending to it.

                                  Not illegal, per se, but certainly rude as hell & something those particular businesses should have paid a social penalty for.

                                  Report

                                • “The Kochs apparently have the legitimate authority to have reporters kicked out of hotels and restaurants under a “private property” justification”

                                  The Kochs did not do that. The hotel owner did that.

                                  “oh but the Kochs MADE him do it!” Well yeah, I’m sure they told him to, but it was still him doing it, not them. They didn’t extraterritorialize a big chunk of the hotel lobby and declare it Kochsnia.

                                  Report

                                  • It’s not a matter of who did it, but that we don’t think twice about it occurring. And the reason is that we view it as a property-rights issue and not a speech issue. But when the kids did pretty much the same thing at Mizzou it was viewed – without thinking twice! – as a speech issue.

                                    And adding to that: I have to admit that Mike’s post is definitely making me think twice about this stuff.

                                    Report

                          • Honestly, I try to be as clear as I can while still providing some entertainment value.

                            To be very explicit, if that is in fact required, this seems to me very clearly to be a property issue. Students temporarily appropriating a university-wide space as their own is unfortunate and worthy of criticism, but it’s a very different offense than students attacking the First Amendment, yet the latter is, almost universally, the way this story is being reported.

                            Report

                          • Well, to be honest, I think the notion of trying to make public spaces “safe” beyond the most general definition of the word is the height of silliness and one of the reasons I have a hard time taking these kids seriously. I can also certainly see the concern of people that these kids would attempt to carve out a public safe space where they could practice censorship to keep out ideas they find offensive (because sauce for the goose, etc.).

                            But the primary issue to me is simply denying access to public spaces for private concerns.

                            Report

                            • I can also certainly see the concern of people that these kids would attempt to carve out a public safe space where they could practice censorship to keep out ideas they find offensive (because sauce for the goose, etc.).

                              Well, if you agree that the Koch’s didn’t engage in censorship when they used force to restrict access, then how do you “see the concern” when the kids did the same thing?

                              Is it because you think those two uses of force are disanalogous? (I ask that seriously, btw?)

                              Report

                              • Private event, private property, no censorship possible. Dickish behavior, sure, but not censorship. Private property & private events allow for all manner of rights violations (except they aren’t really violations).

                                As for the Mizzou students, let me walk it back a bit… I was listening to NPR and they were interviewing someone who was talking about the protestors feeling that the media was hostile toward them (more than possible) and what they wanted was not a “safe space” in the conventional understanding. Rather they just wanted a place that afforded them the ability to be able to let their guard down, where some random media person won’t see someone goofing off & attempt to reduce the entire movement into that one person.

                                And man, I get that. I totally get that. I’m very sympathetic toward that desire. You just can’t do that in a public space. Or rather, you can’t do that in a public space & not expect a good deal of pushback from a hostile media. Were there no Greek houses nearby that could have served such a function, or any other such private space?

                                Still, these are students, and as bright as they might be, they are not seasoned vets when it comes to controlling media & messaging during a protest or rally, so personally, I find it’s a ‘meh…’. But Professor Click, on the other hand, and all the other faculty out there who seem to be lacking (or letting go of) any kind of professional sense when these events happen; who, instead of being teachers and guiding students toward effective means & goals, are just cheerleading these kids into making fools of themselves*…

                                Click should not have allowed herself to become so caught up in the emotion that she lost sight of exactly what kind of sh!tstorm she was about to kick off by threatening muscle against the media. With the Kochs, I’m pretty sure they knew exactly what would happen when they impressed their desires upon the hotel & restaurant, and they were ready for it. The Mizzou students probably weren’t ready, and they didn’t deserve it. Click should have known, and should have been upfront with the protest leaders regarding what would happen if they tried to control a public space like that, and then worked with them to either find a private space, or figure out a system that would allow for media in a controlled fashion.

                                But for her to get in a reporters face & call for muscle, that was just as stupid a move as a person could make.

                                *In the military, there is the offense of “Conduct Unbecoming” and it can get you cashiered, quite quickly, even if other charges of misconduct can’t be proven. It’s an offense I wonder if the professional civilian world should adopt more readily.

                                Report

                                • For what it’s worth, I agree with a lot of this.

                                  The media *IS* prone to show up and lazily look for the most clickbaity person they can find. “Ooooooh! It’s a white guy in blackface explaining how America is destroying Europe with vaccine schedules and he’s also burning an effigy of the queen!”

                                  And the media goes on to interview him instead of the 50 people they walked past.

                                  The 50 they walked past? They’re the people who talked about the problems that stem from culture, and economics, and history, and the Cold War, and post-cold-war hegemony… and the 6 O’clock news shows the “Free Mumia” idiot talking about the Queen instead of the 50 people who actually showed up to protest and maybe actually *CHANGE* something.

                                  And so it goes.

                                  And so it goes.

                                  Report

              • I’d say person. The problem isn’t what they’re doing with the property, but that they’re forcibly keeping people out of a place where they have a legal right to be. I believe that that’s assault at a minimum, and possibly battery if they actually touched them in the process.

                Report

  4. Wow Mike, I mean those are EXACTLY alike, I mean really really really really really alike!

    A private space (which is what a privately owned and leased resort is) is a private space. A public space (which is what a public univeristy quad is) is public. Attemping to equate the two is the very defintion of a false equivilance.

    You are basically making the rights point for them.

    Report

    • You’re right using force to prevent public scrutiny is completely different from using for to prevent public scrutiny,and everyone who criticized the students went on to say: of course, if they’d found a local diner that was sympathetic to them, had the owner kick everyone else out, left a few people outside to shoo away and threaten any reporters who came by, and then had their meeting there, that would have been completely fine.

      Report

    • aarondavid:
      A private space (which is what a privately owned and leased resort is) is a private space.A public space (which is what a public univeristy quad is) is public.Attemping to equate the two is the very defintion of a false equivilance.

      Is that actually true, though? And to the extent that it is, should it be?

      I mean, I live in California where a privately owned, privately operated mall is considered public space, so I’m pretty sure my alma mater’s quad is considered public.

      But I’m not sure other parts of the country have the same rules. And to the extent that public universities are open public spaces rather than restricted in the way that k12 schools are, or for that matter the way that most government offices are, It may be a matter of convinience as much as it is a matter of principle.

      Report


        • I haven’t specifically read the decisions, but I was under the impression that Trader Joe’s and the other Pruneyard walkbacks were specifically related to spaces in front of and identified with a specific store. So, you couldn’t bogart the entrance to Macy’s but you could still set up in the food court and claim free speech protections.

          Report

  5. If I remember correctly (IANAL) it comes down to the selectivity of access to the space. So a dorm room at a public university would be a private space, but a privatly owned mall would be a public space. I would say that a private resort and its grounds are private spaces due to the selectivity of its bookings and indeed it might be what it is specifically offering. I would say the UU at Poly would be an example of a public space for students of the univerisity. Others seem to disagree. /shrug

    Report

    • However, some public property, even though it is open only for limited purposes, can take on the attributes of a public forum discussed above. A classic example of this type of property is public schools and universities. Although public school and university buildings are not wholly open to the public, some parts of a campus may be considered a public forum. If a school’s large open quad is accessed from public sidewalks and streets and freely used by the general public with no apparent objection from the school administration, then the quad may be considered “dedicated” to public use, and therefore more like the traditional public forums of the public park and sidewalk. Additionally, if the school opens certain of its rooms for non-school meetings that are open to the public, those rooms, during those times, will be treated as public forums.

      ~ http://www.dmlp.org/legal-guide/access-public-property

      Report

      • Who is asking for people wandering into the restaurant to be physically removed?

        An unctuous maître d?
        Hotel Security after the maître d is ignored?
        One of the other guests in the restaurant who yells “SOMEONE WHO DOESN’T BELONG IN THIS RESTAURANT HEY YOU GUYS!!! LET’S GET THIS GUY OUT OF HERE!!!!” to other people at the table?

        Report

        • Where by “wandering in” we mean “being there because of a reservation that had previously been made and accepted”. I’m guessing it’s a billionaire with a phobia about eating in front of someone he hasn’t bought and paid for. I think Howard Hughes had that too.

          Report

    • Renting out a venue that normally serves customers on a walk-in basis for a private event is a totally normal thing that people do all the time. I’ve been to several such events, seen businesses advertising this, and been turned away from restaurants and such on the grounds that they’re closed for a private event.

      Universities typically allow student organizations to book rooms for meetings and other events. I’m not sure what kind of policies they have on excluding non-members, but I assume that’s allowed.

      Report

  6. I went to a private college that had a very large centrally located quad that was used for a large variety of purposes. One purpose was clearly political — a group of students built a “shantytown” to protest the college’s failure to divest from South Africa. Another was recreational — student clubs used the space for various sports and activities.

    Query for the group: Did the non-political groups have any right of privacy? Would it be fair for the campus conservative newspaper to take pictures of the Society of Creative Anachronism and publish mocking commentary? What about a scantily clad student jumping for a frisbee? Can’t she just play a game without being worried about her body appearing in the next day’s newspaper?

    And if a political meeting is large enough and comes together on such short notice that there’s no time to find indoor space, is there any outdoor space at a university where they can meet in private?

    Report

  7. This is a valid point, with the stipulation that the property distinction is not an insignificant one. The manufactured outrage over the Koch Brothers renting a venue for a private meeting and asking that they actually be allowed to hold it in private was pretty ridiculous, whereas I’m pretty sure actual crimes were committed in this case. Still, you’re correct in observing that both were attempts to exclude hostile media figures, and since I understand the legitimate reasons why the Koch Brothers would want to keep out the illiberal media, the comparison does cause me to judge the the media-exclusion aspect of the protestors’ actions somewhat less harshly.

    Not to be confused with approval of the methods they used, or of their agenda.

    Report

  8. I have some sympathy for the comparison, but a salient distinction is that campus protesters generally (and I think the Mizzou protesters did) seek out the public space in order to gain initial visibility (even if they are only seeking to direct their visibility to the campus administration, rather than to the public via the media). It’s only after gaining X amount of visibility that they then want to control how much more visibility they experience as a result of the notice they’ve attracted by choosing the public space on order to gain some visibility in the first place.

    There my be an element of truth to your economic analysis inasmuch as if the protesters wanted to meet someplace and hire security, they may face some financial challenges in being able to do that. But on a university campus as large as Mizzou it’s almost certainly the case that they should have been able to book space in which to meet (and even protest, just far less visibly) where they would have been able to fairly easily evade media coverage of their event, and maybe even simply bar media coverage Koch-style.

    The issue is seeking out public spaces in which to protest so that your protest gains notice, and then at a certain point turning on a dime and attempting to control the media coverage you’ve attracted with that course of action. You’re either staging a public protest on public space, or you’re holding a private meeting where press isn’t welcome. You can’t flit conveniently from one to the other.

    What I would say is that it’s not necessarily the case that you have to let people stand or report from the exact square foot that they want to in relation to your protest, even on public land. The comparison I’ve been thinking about this week has been, consider an anti-abortion protest that has taken the form of a prayer circle. Again, on the quad on a campus. From the perspective of the values of free speech, free press, and freedom of motion on campus, I think people looking to report on the prayer circle need to be allowed to stand within reasonable proximity of it in order to see and hear what’s going on. But I don’t think that the praying protesters would need to let a reporter report from inside the middle of the prayer circle, even though it’s also a public protest on common university grounds. So to the extent that the Mizzou protest group were trying to gain a space free from press that is analogous (in physically space) to the interior of a prayer circle, I think maybe too much has been made of this. But if they were more seeking to exclude press from an entire area of the protest, I don’t think that works, given that they chose a public space initially not for economic reasons, but for the normal reasons that protesters choose public spaces – to gain notice. When you act consciously to gain notice front he public, you earn notice from the press.

    Report

        • They didn’t, at least not in the example cited, because theirs was never meant to be a public demonstration at all. They simply set up a private meeting and hired security for it. It may have been in a nicer place than concernedstudents1950 could have, and the security might have been paid rather than volunteer, but I’m just not really seeing the relevance of that.

          Report

    • I have some sympathy for the comparison, but a salient distinction is that campus protesters generally (and I think the Mizzou protesters did) seek out the public space in order to gain initial visibility (even if they are only seeking to direct their visibility to the campus administration, rather than to the public via the media). It’s only after gaining X amount of visibility that they then want to control how much more visibility they experience as a result of the notice they’ve attracted by choosing the public space on order to gain some visibility in the first place.

      Should it be a group’s choice how public they want to be at any given time? If not, whose choice should it be?

      Report

      • Out of curiosity, is it possible for a group to reserve the campus quad?

        I know that my local college does stuff like reserve the outside spaces and cordon them off (for graduation or visiting speakers or the like). I imagine that it would be possible for a group to make a similar request of the college.

        Did the protesters make such a request of the quad or did they merely show up? If they merely showed up, does that mean anything? If they put in a request to reserve the quad and it was denied, that would change a thing or two. Do we know whether this happened?

        Report

        • I made that point somewhere up above. I don’t know if they did ‘reserve the quad’, but if they did, and the University had granted them the quad, that changes things somewhat.

          Not sure how much, though, since such things usually have rules regarding just how much a given group can control the space.

          Report

      • “Should it be a group’s choice how public they want to be at any given time?”

        So I have an expectation of total privacy until I’m in a group?

        Congratulations, you’ve justified warrantless wiretapping, because “group” can be defined as “more than one person”.

        Report

      • Should it be a group’s choice how public they want to be at any given time?

        Absolutely, all they have to do is step out of the public space…

        I mean, if we allow a group to declare a public space private like that, it weakens the argument we make for a persons right to record a police officer, or a public official.

        Report

      • As Jaybird says, let’s first establish that the setting is the campus quad.

        Are you entitled to privacy from reporters’ attempts to ask you questions on the campus quad? Yes, if you’re seeking to do basically private things. Like, walk across the campus quad. Or stand and have a quiet conversation about plans for a party. Even then, you need to tell the reporter you don’t want to answer questions. You can’t tell the reporter to leave the quad. (By which I mean, you have no legitimate expectation that he accede to such a request; I’m not making legal claims here.) I don’t think you can even insist that he stand more than, I dunno, maybe 5 feet (max) from you. If you want those ten feet, you need to gain them from him, not the reverse.

        And that’s for private people doing private things on the quad. A public protest on a campus quad is not a private act, and can’t suddenly become one by the whim of the protesters. Certainly it can’t become one while the protest continues to hold the ground of the quad (and loudly announce in a public way it is doing so!). Basically, once you start a public protest on ground as public as a campus quad, IMO that is an even that has no presumption of privacy as long as it continues to have the form of a protest. The members can go find privacy elsewhere, but they have made the quad place of public interest to the university by staging a public protest, and the university and community has the right to expect its tribunes (student reporters, public reporters, etc.) to be allowed to report on it. I think you have to go elsewhere if you want to find a space safe from the public notice you have created in that space. That’s pretty much my view.

        I’ve mentioned an exception: if the space you’re seeking to make safe is a very small part of the protest (and of the quad). And this was actually my initial impression (or assumption, I’m not sure which) about the safe space people were trying to create in this protest. I think it’s fair to ask to be able to stay on the quad, but essentially say, look, over here in this little corner we’re holding a meeting about this protest that is not open to reporters. Again, that was my initial impression, but at this point I don;t really have any idea if that’s how it was. But I would also say that, so long as you insist on holding that meeting on the quad which you have made an object of great public interest in these moments, you also don’t have highly compelling case that your request that your meetng-within-the-protest be totally disregarded by the press. You don’t need to physically include reporters within the circle of the conversation you;re trying to have, but I don;t think you can righteously demand that they not stand, say ten feet away and try to report on it. The quad remains the quad. You could go across the street to the student union and sit down at a table and have a meeting there. I think your request to be left substantially alone (say, thirty feet) would be a much stronger one if you did that, than if you insist on having the meeting on the quad as a meeting-within-a-protest.

        Jaybird raises another relevant point, which is reserving the quad. I suppose the potential permutations for how the speech policy around that could be structured are endless. I would just say that I doubt that t hardly any campuses does reserving the quad for an event come with the right to exclude dissenting expression or reporting on the event. I expect that it is basically just the right to hold only one major organized event there at a particular time. If you want to hold an event on campus where you can gain control over what views are expressed, and over how much reporting on the event is done, there are spaces other than the quad that you can reserve for that (meeting rooms, conference rooms, classrooms, etc.) Those spaces likely don’t offer the advantages for gaining public notice of your protest or cause that the quad does. But that’s exactly the point: on the quad you say things, you get noticed, other people say other things back, and you discuss. That’s the idea. That idea shouldn’t be short-circuited.

        Report

Comments are closed.