Constructing fences not at all constructive

Prohibiting student self-expression by physically fencing them off shortsighted, counterproductive

On Wednesday, October 11, Rensselaer established a perimeter surrounding a large portion of the south side of campus. The capital campaign launch event was held inside these boundaries, which included the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, the Folsom Library, and the Jonsson-Rowland Science Center, on Friday, October 13.

The approximately four foot tall fence prohibited students from approaching most of the area where capital campaign events were held. This move was, ostensibly, to ensure “the welfare of our community and guests” who were attending Reunion & Homecoming events. Regardless of the publicized intent, the fence undeniably served to suppress the planned demonstration. It was to keep protesters’ voices from being heard by alumni and donors attending the launch of the capital campaign—people whose financial contributions to Rensselaer ensure that they have the attention of administrators.

Preventing students from entering such a large portion of campus is unprecedented. Although this is not the first time that the Institute has attempted to prevent a demonstration, it has never before taken action as rash and senseless as setting up a literal perimeter in an effort to restrain dissenting opinions.

The fence only served to further alienate the student body during a time when sentiment toward the administration is already strained. If the motive was to prevent students from expressing their concern regarding overbearing administrative power, it failed stupendously. It served as an expensive and highly-visible, campus-wide advertisement for the protest, reaffirmed concerns for those who already planned to protest, and very clearly established a dichotomy between students and administrators. If one of the main missions of the campaign is to “attract the brightest and most deserving students,” then why belittle those very same students by fencing them off from the campus which they are to be representative of?

On Friday, October 13, a significant portion of the student body made their feelings toward the recent actions taken by the school very clear by gathering en masse between the Amos Eaton and Lally buildings, and breaking through the fence despite of all of the “security measures.” The energy of the movement was palpable as alumni, students, faculty, and staff gathered in support of their cause. Its resounding success was emphasized by the demonstrators’ orderly and peaceful dissention.

The Troy Police Department officers on campus handled the protest admirably; they allowed the demonstration to continue as long as the group stayed a reasonable distance from and did not interfere with the event.

This protest is a symptom of an underlying issue. If President Shirley Ann Jackson and her cabinet wish to prevent future protests, they must address the concerns and demands of the protesters through compromise and clear communication, not by denying demonstration applications and erecting physical barriers. Additionally, it is the responsibility of Save the Union’s leaders to use their platform to make honest, sincere attempts to work with administrators to resolve their stated issues.