Students, faculty react to new MU camping and protest policies

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COLUMBIA - MU is facing defiance over new and revised University of Missouri campus regulations focused on protesting, which go into effect June 1.

MU students created a new hashtag on Twitter, #MutedByMU, to speak out against speech suppression, organizing a "last day of protest" on the day the rules go in to effect.

A Twitter user known as jaRReTT tweeted, "Mizzou will trying anything to silence our voices. The gag is, we're still going to resist #MutedbyMU."

Another user known as Zo tweeted, "If you weren't powerful, they wouldn't try to confine or silence you. #MutedByMU."

One student who participated in the 2015 fall protests says the new policies will not fully stifle protests.

"People are going to make sure that you hear them, so regardless of whatever policy you do to try and stop that, they're going to make sure that you're going to hear them," said Teanna Bass, a sophomore at MU.

One of the rules prohibits camping on university grounds, which was a notable part of the 2015 protests. For Bass, the camping demonstration was an important way to get the students' message across.

"We were trying to push this new list of demands, we were trying to push these things that we needed as students, minoritized students and marginalized students on campus," Bass said.

However, rules preventing camping are not new.

"The university system's collected rules have prohibited overnight sleeping, other than in places designed for sleeping like dormitories, literally for decades," said Ben Trachtenberg, chair of MU's Faculty Council.

The new clarified rule defines camping as "sleeping outdoors between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m." and "establishing or maintaining outdoors, or in or under any structure not designated for human occupancy, at any time during the day or night, a temporary or permanent place for cooking, storing of personal belongings, or sleeping."

"People who are asleep are in danger of being attacked or having other problems. Frankly, in the fall of 2015, I was terrified that something bad would happen to the folks who were sleeping outside," Trachtenberg said.

Bass said she doesn't think much would have changed in 2015 if the rule had been enforced.

"The only that probably would've changed was the visual representation of us trying to get our point across," Bass said. "I'm pretty sure everyone would've still fought for what they believe in."

The Ad Hoc Joint Committee on Protests, Public Spaces, Free Speech and the Press crafted the revised rules and regulations over a period of 15 months.

Sandy Davidson, a journalism and law professor at MU, was brought onto the committee to make sure the policies were in line with the First Amendment.

"I was interested in following the lead of the U.S. Supreme Court. That's always the bottom line," Davidson said.

She said the policies needed to be aligned with the First Amendment.

"We did have to consider things such as safety and the use of facilities to which they've been dedicated. So, it's a balancing," Davidson said.

When suppressing freedom of expression, the important thing to look at is the intent of said suppression, she said.

"When you get into the notion of camping, are there valid reasons for wanting to restrict camping? The answer is yes. There's safety reasons, there's maybe hygiene reasons," Davidson said.

Trachtenberg said, "I have tremendous respect for the protesters who were out during the fall of 2015, and I understand that being outside helped them get their message, but nonetheless, the university has safety concerns."

Davidson said the best way to get a message across is to innovate.

"Protest, follow the rules, but also be creative," Davidson said.

The Missouri Students Association has created a Google form looking for feedback from students on the policies.