VCU changes policy on free speech areas in the wake of Compass controversies

Illustration by Allison Verjinski
Illustration by Allison Verjinski

VCU is restricting rules on who can reserve the Compass, according to an interim policy introduced at the end of 2017.

Previously, the Compass could be reserved by students or people with no affiliation with the university. But now, the plaza directly adjacent to the Compass has that distinction.

Reuban Rodriguez, associate vice provost and dean of student affairs, said the new policy creates an arena of expression for all groups.

“Members of the public can still come and do expressive activities,” Rodriguez said. “The university has the ability to implement time, place and manner in a way that still allows for general freedom of expression.”

Time, place and manner restrictions are what allow federal and state governments to regulate expression on university campuses.

Virginia lawmakers are working to regulate university free speech zones and restricted public areas even further. HB 344, which recently passed in the House, will require colleges to establish and post free speech policies on the university’s website and orientation handbook.

The First Amendment protects free speech, regardless of how offensive it may be interpreted. Unprotected forms of speech include defamation, sexual harassment and imminent threats of violence. The U.S. Supreme Court has also deemed fighting words and intimidating, violence-provoking speech as unprotected.

Last week, a group of traveling campus preachers held signs in condemnation of certain religious groups and activities they deem immoral outside of Cabell Library, despite the new policy.

Abigail Smalley, a senior who majors in political science and psychology, said a preacher called her leggings “sex shorts” and said she was dressed provocatively.

“(A preacher) was yelling about how Monday was a day that women shouldn’t be allowed to speak, and if they had anything to say, they should just tell their boyfriends,” Smalley said.

Smalley said this kind of speech should be limited on college campuses.

“I think the line should be drawn when someone specifically attacks a group of people or an individual,” Smalley said. “It is one thing to preach about joining a cause, but it’s entirely another thing to yell about people going to Hell.”

Saffeya Ahmed, Contributing Writer

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