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Op-ed | Zeta Psi banner removal reflects double standard

Published: Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 08:11

 

On Sunday, Nov. 4, several Zeta Psi brothers put a political banner supporting senatorial candidate Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass., LA ’81) on the front of our house at 80 Professors Row. The next morning, TUPD came onto our property and asked us to take down the sign on behalf of the Office of Student Affairs, due to a policy in the Tufts Student Handbook that forbids banners from being posted on the exterior of campus housing. While our brotherhood admittedly disagreed on whether the house should have put up the sign in the first place because of differences in political ideology, I am dismayed and outraged by the university’s decision to force us to take it down. This banner policy may not even apply to our house, is not universally enforced and stifles the ability for students to express political opinions in an election season.

For those who are unaware, Scott Brown is both an alumnus of Tufts and an alumnus of Zeta Psi. Thus, at a certain level, this argument is not even political. As said before, our entire brotherhood has different political views on Scott Brown. But the decision to ultimately put the sign up was a matter that was handled in-house, by the brothers. It should not have been Tufts’ prerogative to order us to suspend our public support for an alumnus and a brother. 

In fact, Tufts may not have even had the right to require us to take the sign down. The banner policy in the Tufts Student Handbook states: “students may not hang any banners or items outside their university residence windows.” Our house might be considered on-campus housing because sophomores can live in it to satisfy the residential requirement and because it sits literally in the center of the campus. But our house is not owned and operated by Tufts. Rather, our alumni association owns it, and brothers handle all daily operations. Therefore, it seems that our house had no duty to comply with the banner policy, and we feel that Tufts had no right to enforce it against us. 

But regardless of whether or not we fall under the school’s jurisdiction, the banner policy is clearly not consistently administered. If Tufts actually stayed true to its policy, there should be no banners, flags or signs hanging from any dorms or on-campus housing. But when we walk around campus, students see many examples of such “banners” that would seem to violate the University’s bylaws. If the policy was enforced in all situations, shouldn’t a student be forced to remove a rainbow gay pride flag or an American flag hanging from his or her dorm window? There seems to be a double standard here, one that unfairly targeted our house and, even worse, an alumnus of our school.  

Even if Tufts chose to enforce this policy universally, its wisdom is highly questionable. Tufts professes to be a school that values a diversity of opinions and beliefs and that promotes “active citizenship.” That is one of the main reasons why many of us chose this school in the first place. But I find it extremely unfortunate that Tufts would have a policy that hinders every student’s freedom of expression, and the banner policy does just that. There is no reason why an on-campus dormitory or house, with the consent of its members, should not be able to express its beliefs in an appropriate and respectful manner. 

Over the last several years, the Tufts administration has attempted to limit free speech on numerous occasions. For that reason, in 2011, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education deservedly ranked Tufts as one of the twelve worst violators of free speech among all American colleges and universities. Tufts has created a slippery slope towards further infringement of free speech, and this incident is yet another example of the school’s willingness to exert its power inappropriately. 

It is troubling for a university to silence the opinions of its students when it does not necessarily agree with those opinions. Would Tufts have required us to take down the sign it if was in support of a different candidate or was a rainbow gay pride flag? The undeniable fact that banners and flags remain ubiquitous on the exterior walls of on-campus housing suggests that it might not have.

More generally, Tufts should have policies that allow students to express political opinions, not stifle them. When the beliefs of some are silenced, there is no true freedom of expression. I think that the entire Tufts community should be interested in hearing the University’s justification for making us take down our sign and should be ashamed that the school has developed a reputation for consistently violating the First Amendment.

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Michael Weinberg is a sophomore majoring in political science. He can be reached at michael.weinberg@tufts.edu

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