New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Opinion: NYU’s conduct policies do more to silence students than protect them

The university’s expectations on student conduct are restrictive and not worth the loss of free expression, even in the face of emerging safety concerns on campus due to the Israel-Hamas war.
Sr. Vice President for University Life Jason Pina sent an email about university guidance and expectations on student conduct to the NYU student body on Nov. 1. (Graphic by Qianshan Weng)

Earlier this month, in the wake of increased on-campus tensions following the Israel-Hamas war, NYU sent students an email informing them of student conduct and protest guidelines. The message was the latest of many from the administration amid heightened safety concerns on campus.

Following incidents where students have been made to feel unsafe, both on campus and online, it is understandable that NYU would want to take every possible precaution to ensure their safety. But while the university’s protest guidelines might be intended to protect students, their restrictive nature does more to censor them than provide support. Imposing regulations on protests and online activity hinders open discourse, conflicting with NYU’s values of academic freedom. 

“Where students choose to transgress, we want them to be aware that the consequences can be serious, up to and including suspension and expulsion, with particularly swift and severe sanctions for those who engage in or threaten violence,” Senior Vice President for University Life Jason Pina wrote in the email.

The fundamental problem with these guidelines is that they are either too vague — leaving a lot to university interpretation — or fail to target the root of actual safety concerns. The sign, poster and banner guideline banning content that “violates the [Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy] or contributes to a hostile environment under the NDAH” is unclear. The university gives examples of what might violate the policy, but what constitutes a violation is ultimately up to NYU. 

The rule that “all organizers and participants of a protest or demonstration are responsible for the conduct of the event,” on the other hand, discourages students that could have otherwise organized a peaceful demonstration. Blaming organizers with peaceful intentions for actions that are beyond their control is not only inefficient, it places the university’s commitment to free speech under question.

The regulation regarding behavior during protest activities reads that demonstrations can’t use amplified sound, such as drums and bullhorns — common tools for protest — “indoors or directly adjacent to classrooms or residence halls.” While this may be intended to prevent disruption on campus, disruption is also often the point of protests, and students should not be punished for peacefully fighting for what they believe in. 

This guideline would make more sense if the university imposed specific time restrictions, such as banning loud noises near residence halls past a certain hour or during exams seasons. The lack of specificity makes it seem like the university is using the cover of concern for students’ academic success to suppress protest activity — after all, there are no classes late at night, and there are few people sleeping in residence halls during the day. 

The policy on social media and online behavior states that the university can take disciplinary action for “conduct occurring outside the university context, including online,” if they determine that the conduct “substantially disrupts the regular operation of the university.” This is also worrying, considering it is not the university’s place to be regulating the private lives of its students. This policy should have only been made applicable in extreme circumstances, such as if a student’s online actions were directly threatening or harming another member of the NYU community. While it is understandable that the university might be concerned about the online safety of its community at this time, the vague caveat of “disrupting the regular operation of the university” gives it an unnecessary amount of control over our private lives.

While well-intentioned, NYU’s guidelines risk eroding the core ideals of free speech and expression that are integral to any academic institution. Instead of encouraging a more inclusive environment, these standards may inadvertently stifle student voices and limit the diversity of thought that the university claims to foster.

WSN’s Opinion section strives to publish ideas worth discussing. The views presented in the Opinion section are solely the views of the writer.

Contact Molly Koch at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Molly Koch
Molly Koch, Opinion Editor
Molly Koch is a junior in Gallatin concentrating in journalism as an art form. They’re fascinated by classical literature and its influence on the power of the written word. When they are not writing, you can find them reading their way through their endless TBR, running along the Hudson or Facetiming their dog.

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  • J

    jackNov 14, 2023 at 3:34 pm

    Agreed, but I think in a time where people want to stand up and make bold claims it is important for everyone that those claims are true and accurate.

    The university should instead try to educate everyone on the nuances of the conflict, then let university members (not unaffiliated community members) express themselves as they wish.

    It’s this lack of nuance in most protesting right now that’s the most dangerous, leading to thinly veiled calls for genocide or violence against others. If people were better informed and allowed to speak their mind within reason, I think the situation would be a bit better on campus.