Graduate Student Council debates free speech policies

Feb. 14, 2024, 11:12 p.m.

Two students proposed a bill to protect displays of free speech on campus during the Graduate Student Council’s (GSC) Tuesday meeting. The bill on free speech, to be voted on later this quarter, will challenge the University’s ban on overnight displays.

The Tuesday debate occurred following the University’s mandate last Thursday ordering three demonstrations to vacate White Plaza between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. because of physical safety concerns. The demonstrations were tied to campus discourse on the ongoing Israel-Gaza war.

“The bill calls for the Stanford administration to provide clarity and legislative justification for any restrictions that the Stanford administration places on students’ right to free speech,” wrote Perry Nielsen Jr., a master’s student in health policy, and Kay Barrett, a second-year English Ph.D. student. Nielsen Jr. and Barrett are co-proponents of the bill. 

The bill draws on California’s Leonard Law, which extends some First Amendment protections to students at private colleges.  

During the meeting, Nielsen Jr. and Barrett argued that overnight demonstrations in White Plaza were protected under the Leonard Law because the students attend classes during the day. Further, they pointed out the University designated White Plaza as a space for “student and other University programs, speeches, events, information tables, fairs, banners and posters.”

White Plaza is available for students to reserve, but all events and activities must follow University policies, which currently prohibit overnight camping.

Individual clauses of the bill will clarify ambiguities with the University’s free speech policies. These include where free speech can be exercised and rules surrounding camping and banners. 

The articles of the bill, while still under review, “aim to initiate more conversation and collaboration” among administrators, students and protestors “about the role and importance of protected speech,” Nielsen Jr. wrote. 

Nielsen Jr. said the GSC started working on the bill in November as a response to the Undergraduate Senate’s conversations with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and campus discourse around free speech boundaries. 

He hopes that the bill will be voted on this quarter. Nielsen Jr. and Barrett will meet with Bernadette Meyler, chair of the ad hoc committee on University speech, to solidify the details of the bill. 

GSC co-chair Emmit Pert said the University’s concerns about the White Plaza sit-ins posing a danger to public safety are synonymous with a “tree being blown and causing concerns on public safety.”

Additionally, members present at the Tuesday meeting discussed details of a pilot program that would open EVGR two-bedroom triples to graduate students and ways to increase student turnout at Residential & Dining Enterprises’s (R&DE) Food Pantry Pop-up program.

The council explored the possibilities of including bunk beds in two-bedroom triples to save space in the rooms and reduce the cost of living for graduate students. GSC will address cost comparisons of two-bedroom singles, doubles and triples in a later meeting.

The Food Pantry Pop-ups distribute grocery items at no cost to students and their affiliates who need additional food support. The last pop-up, which took place on Monday, saw extremely low attendance. Some 400 registered participants were not present.

GSC discussed modifying the pop-up’s time or registration system. R&DE plans to mention the low attendance issue on its website. 

A previous version of this article misidentified Perry Nielsen Jr. as a GSC councilor and included an error on the content of the Free Speech Bill. The Daily regrets these errors.

Paridhi Bhatia '27 is a beat reporter for international students and a writer for the University desk. She is interested in developmental economics and environmental policy. Contact Paridhi at news 'at'

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