The Right To Assembly

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

January 23, 2009 Ed Cartoon

Amendments have recently been made to the Lakehead University Student Union’s constitution to ensure student clubs at the Thunder Bay university have positive messages that cannot be seen as offensive and that prevent clubs from imposing their views on others.

Richard Longtin, president of the LUSU, said the new rules were designed to create a more civil atmosphere in which students respect one another; however, the student union has received some well-deserved criticism for their decision.

Student clubs should be based on the common interests of individuals, whether social or political, though it is important the actions or message of the club should not be hateful. Fortunately the University Students’ Council at Western has not drawn such a hard line as the LUSU. It will be nearly impossible to restrict everything that is offensive. Whatever the message is, someone will always be offended and discomfort is hard to gauge.

By choosing to be reactive rather than proactive in controversial situations, the USC has given people the chance to discuss issues, which should be an important part of any university education.

However, clubs should be allowed to take people out of their comfort zone. A campus where distinct views are represented and difficult issues are addressed is preferable to an apathetic campus where everyday realities are repressed. But clubs cannot resort to harassing passersby or displaying images of abject gore and violence unsuitable to appear in other forms of public media.

Students may have heated feelings about demonstrations on campus from certain clubs, but so long as the clubs hold to these guidelines then students can always walk right by or find a different way around campus.

Still, any potentially controversial events planned by a club ought to be first sanctioned by the USC before occurring and perhaps the USC ought to draft a waiver for clubs making those who are unable to hold civil debates or demonstrations accountable for their own controversial actions.

At the same time, the council must be careful not to ban a club too quickly as this may alienate the club rather than guiding it to a more moderate way of expression.

Around campus, some potentially controversial clubs have actually begun to take more open and inclusive approaches, maintaining their beliefs but holding events to which any student could feel welcome and where civilized debate is encouraged.

The USC’s current policies are effective, as long as they continue to allow clubs to take a stance and express views with a non-harassment policy in mind. Like steep tuition, the occasional controversy is just another part of university life.

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