Protest denied

'Lab safety class' still planned

Last week, Bryan Johns ’19 submitted an application dated Thursday, September 28 to Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Travis Apgar to hold a demonstration in “areas surrounding EMPAC and the Folsom Library.” According to the application, the demonstration was scheduled for 4:30 pm on Friday, October 13, which is the same time that President Shirley Ann Jackson plans to kick off a capital campaign in the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center during Reunion & Homecoming weekend. Apgar denied the application to hold a demonstration.

Apgar elaborated that a demonstration may “disrupt” these events and “exceed [Rensselaer’s] capacity for providing safety and security.” Additionally, he noted that “we made a decision some time ago that we would not approve demonstration applications for the dates of October 12–14, 2017.” Apgar wrote that he welcomes a meeting with Johns “to discuss alternatives days and times [Johns] might conduct the demonstration.” According to Apgar, Johns has not taken him up on his offer to meet.

In response to the denial, the Save the Union organization sent a campus-wide email decrying Apgar’s letter. “If no reasonably-defined form of demonstration can happen within an event (as the law provides) and none can happen reasonably proximate to it (as Apgar contends), no meaningful demonstration at any event is possible.”

Save the Union says that despite the administration’s denial of the demonstration, it is planning to hold a “lab safety class” at 4 pm on Friday on the field outside of EMPAC, which overlaps with the proposed protest from Johns’ original application. It encourages attendees to “wear lab safety goggles in addition to black clothing to mourn the end of our once student-run Rensselaer Union.”

The message did not originate from an RPI mail server, and how Save the Union gathered student email addresses to build its mailing list is unclear.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education weighed in on Monday, with a letter to Jackson calling on RPI to allow the demonstration to occur. “Rensselaer’s pre-planned restraint on student and faculty dissent during homecoming, expressly imposed in order to devote all resources to activities promoting the institution, is an unacceptable encroachment on the free speech and assembly rights that RPI promises to its students. Accordingly, FIRE asks that you adhere to your Student Bill of Rights by withdrawing the prohibition on student demonstrations during this period,” wrote FIRE’s Adam Steinbaugh.

Through an email to The Poly, Apgar reiterated that “Rensselaer resources are not able to accommodate” this demonstration. “Those with expertise in event management and security determined that a demonstration would pose potential disruption of already-planned events and raises concerns for the safety of attendees.”

Some of the safety concerns cited by Apgar in relation to Friday’s demonstration are access for people with mobility impairments, emergency vehicle routes, and maintaining a perimeter for a fireworks display.

“We support freedom of speech and the students’ right to demonstrate,” Apgar wrote. “We will disagree at times, and I ask that we all keep in mind this basic truth: to move forward, we must find ways to assume good will on the part of those with whom we disagree, and engage in civil discourse.”

Apgar also stated that “inaccurate communications have been distributed across various mediums by those claiming to be concerned with the state of the student-run Union. These communications include misinformation, incomplete information, and personal attacks.” He continued, “In actuality, student leaders are coming to discussions with open minds and recommendations. We are getting good work done, and it’s just not being shared.”

In the spring of 2016, applications to demonstrate outside of EMPAC during the president’s Spring Town Meeting were also denied. However, hundreds of students gathered anyway under the auspice of an open class hosted by Professor Bill Puka, and the administration worked with participants to ensure it was safe. Some of the measures taken included making sure demonstrators knew to stay out of fire lanes and provide paths for first responders to make their ways through the crowd if necessary.