LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Addressing recent judicial actions regarding demonstration

Classmates,

Several students have informed us that they were contacted by the Dean of Students Office, either by email from a staff member or through a formal judicial inquiry notice, as they have been identified as allegedly participating in a peaceful demonstration that occurred on October 13, 2017.

We—alongside innumerable students, faculty, staff, and even administrators—are both shocked and appalled by the recent revelations as well as the actions taken against these students.

Yesterday, Grand Marshal Justin Etzine ’18 reached out to Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Travis Apgar to express his concerns regarding these communications and to notify him that he would be remiss if we failed to communicate to you important information about student rights, in addition to his addressing the issue as grand marshal—the chief spokesperson of the student body—given the serious circumstances.

Disappointingly, Apgar denied the information we had received first-hand from students impacted, though the documents we reviewed clearly indicated otherwise, and he stated that sharing this information with the student body would be irresponsible because the facts are “incorrect.” He insisted, with regards to the October 13 demonstration, that “there has been no harassment or coercion of students, nor has the Institute denied students access for the purposes of censorship or to suppress an activity,” and that “we have a responsibility to address alleged violations of Institute policy or regulations.”

As the dean of students, Apgar has the unique responsibility of advocating for students, upholding the Rensselaer Handbook of Student Rights and Responsibilities in a fair and consistent manner, and being truthful in his dealings with the student body. As such, his office’s aggressive approach of moving to sanction students for invoking their rights is irresponsible. Given the already fragile state of student rights on campus, brandishing the Handbook and misconstruing the facts of a peaceful demonstration only serve to further weaken students’ perception of the administration while making the expression of free speech on this campus seem more perilous than ever.

As attendees of the capital campaign launch event, we had the opportunity to see firsthand that the students participating in the demonstration were some of the most respectful demonstrators we have ever observed. They appeared calm, and their behavior on a whole was commendable. At one point during the protest, demonstrators even paused their speeches to join former Vice President for Student Life Eddie Ade Knowles and his students in song at Knowles’ invitation. We have nothing but admiration for the students who had the courage to respectfully support and believe in the future of our Union, something we all care so deeply about, and we know that law enforcement and Department of Public Safety officers present also commended students for the excellent behavior and unparalleled respect they exhibited throughout the demonstration. Officials were also quoted as inviting the student protesters to pass the fenced off area and proceed closer to the event area. As the administration never instructed the students that they could not proceed or that they should stop, the students present were in full compliance with Rensselaer policies, notably the Handbook, and the instructions they were given.

We also observed the fence that formed a large perimeter around the main campus and can confirm that we received no official Institute announcement detailing information about the boundary or that its borders constituted a restricted area. In fact, students were invited to observe the fireworks show that evening from a location that fell within the fenced-in part of campus. Considering the fence wasn’t mentioned until after news broke that a protest would occur, we certainly join the countless students and alumni in questioning its sudden appearance. Students and staff who were present have indicated that at no point did event personnel give instructions to students to modify their conduct or vacate the premises, further calling into question the validity and applicability of the accusations being made. Article V of RPI’s “Student Bill of Rights” guarantees that “the denial of access to facilities or reduction of funds shall not be used by the Institute or the Rensselaer Union as a means of censorship or suppression of any lawful activity.” Unfortunately, on October 13, this is precisely what appeared to occur.

Please remember: as students, you have rights. Read the “Student Bill of Rights,” especially if you are one of the students affected by these judicial inquiries, which includes the right to refuse to answer questions. Students who are going through the judicial process are also entitled to a student judicial advisor. This and other information on judicial affairs may be found in the Rensselaer Handbook of Student Rights and Responsibilities, located at poly.rpi.edu/s/3makj, which is always available on the Dean of Students Office website at poly.rpi.edu/s/qv4z5. Additionally, many alumni have expressed interest and offered help for affected students through various means. Please feel free to reach out to us with your specific concerns, including any related to the judicial process here at RPI, and we will do everything in our power to aid you.

Sincerely,

Justin Etzine ’18

152nd Grand Marshal

Matthew Rand ’19

128th President of the Union