What's the deal with protest at Hofstra?
There is cause for concern in the most recent edition of Hofstra’s “Guide to Pride,” namely the sub-section on the Campus Demonstration Policy under Section II: Institutional Policies. It details the “protocol” that must be followed in order to stage a demonstration on campus, including submitting a campus demonstration proposal form at least seven days prior to any demonstration, not blocking entrances exits and general movement to, from and within campus, not creating a disruptive amount of noise, not preventing the conduct of a University event, not employing force violence or otherwise “[acting] in a manner that disrupts the regular and essential operations of the University.”
In other words, this sub-section seeks to suppress any meaningful measure of student protest. This is a stark contrast from item 12A of the Faculty Policy Series, which formerly referred to “Freedom of Expression” as recently as 2015 and has since been removed from the Rights and Responsibilities page on Hofstra’s website. It could be argued that even this simple name change is indicative of a worrying trend with regard to civil liberties on campus, but I digress. The very first item under this section reaffirms the University’s commitment to “the speedy, resolute and honest consideration of any and all reasonable demands or requests, and to the resolution of any grievance, that may be presented by any campus constituency.” The current “Guide to Pride” presents no such guarantee.
Ironically, this year has also brought increased efforts to assure students (and more importantly, prospective students) of the “accepting” and “safe” climate on campus, such as the No Hate @ Hofstra initiative, complete with a social media hashtag and a shiny new mural in the Sondra and David S. Mack Student Center. And yet, despite the “woke” brand Hofstra has built for itself, the University also pays student workers a pittance of a wage, lines the pockets of Ed Rollins, a.k.a. the co-chair of the Great America PAC, refuses to provide its students with adequate access to medical care – mental or physical – and refuses to take down the extremely prominent statue of a renowned white supremacist, eugenicist and slave-owner, despite vehement student protest and national media coverage.
Of course, the recent revision to the “Guide to Pride” only works to ensure that both prospective and current students, as well as potential donors, will not find out about these potential PR disasters. But, student protest runs deep within Hofstra’s history.
According to “Student Unrest: National Turmoil at Hofstra's Doorstep” by Steve Wagner, “Activist students on Hofstra's campus wrote demands for the expansion of student rights, conducted meetings with faculty members and the Administration, held sit-ins, organized protests, coordinated boycotts and even took over buildings on campus.” It would seem almost as though the current measures against protest were patterned off this passage in particular, which is ironic given the measures that Hofstra and many other universities around the nation took in light of widespread student protest in the spring of 1970.
President Richard Nixon announced the expansion of the war in southeast Asia into Cambodia, the Kent State shooting took place and police at Jackson State College fired into a crowd of student protestors. This combination of events sparked nationwide outrage and protest among college students, namely in the form of a strike wherein students refused to attend normal classes. In response, Hofstra allowed any student to “substitute for the remainder of the semester alternative activities related to their concern over the present political and social travail.” According to Wagner, “Students were allowed to receive a letter grade to be determined by their coursework prior to May 6, 1970, or select a pass-fail option for any class, including those in their major.”
And yet, despite the fact that we are now undoubtedly in a national crisis for a number of reasons, Hofstra has chosen to move backward rather than forward regarding the matter of student protest.
This week alone, President Donald Trump unapologetically referred to himself as a “nationalist” at a rally in Texas. George Soros, famed target of right-wing conspiracy theorists, was mailed an explosive device. The New York Times reported on a leaked memo that revealing that the Department of Health and Human Services may redefine gender on a federal level, endangering the civil rights and protections of LGBTQ+ Americans. This is not even to mention every other horrifying event in U.S. politics that’s taken place over the past month, the past year, the past two years and what will inevitably play out in the years to come.
In light of ever-strengthening fascism and suppression of civil rights on a national and global scale, this reactionary new policy is an issue that must be addressed, especially if Hofstra – and indeed, university campuses as a whole – insists on simultaneously presenting itself as a champion of enlightenment, free speech and “diversity and inclusion.”