Op-Eds Opinion

In Defense of Student Rights at Springfield College

Joe Brown

Joe Brown
Joe Brown

At Springfield College, we are all encouraged to immerse ourselves completely in the college’s mission: to educate students in spirit, mind and body for leadership in service to humanity by building upon the foundation of Humanics.

The college’s mission and Humanics philosophy are revered and lived out by many current students and alumni, but there seem to be flaws in its execution. Take for example the recent hot topic of the ARAMARK workers striving to form a union to better their working conditions.

Elijah Ryan, a junior at Springfield College who supports the workers’ cause, took it upon himself to get actively involved. He received approval from the ARAMARK office in Cheney Dining Hall to set up a table to spread “campus awareness.” After receiving approval, he did just that, setting up informational fliers and posters that remained on the table (in order to follow college policy about solicitation), and handed out harmless buttons that read, “We love our cafeteria workers.” (check out the full story on scstudentmedia.com)

Was Ryan admittedly vague with his phrasing in order to attain a table? Yes. Was it necessary? Again, I would bet the answer would most likely be yes. The situation did not end pleasantly, as someone reported Ryan and asked that he be removed. Information about who called the Department of Public Safety could not be released, according to Police Chief Judy Jackson.

Regardless of who reported Ryan’s actions – which is a questionable move at best seeing as Ryan was doing no one any harm – the fact that Public Safety removed him from Cheney is absurd. The reason given was that he was soliciting because he did not receive approval from the Student Affairs Office, a fact that was confirmed by Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students David Braverman. This procedure infraction, however, masks the bigger issue.

If Ryan had known to ask for approval from the college, would he have received it? The fact that he knew that he had to be vague with ARAMARK is not a positive sign for the psyche of students on campus. Students should feel that they have a right to peacefully express their opinions in support or against an issue, something that this situation shows was not the case.

In the Student Handbook on Page 76 under the section title “Student Rights,” it states, “A student shall have the right to participate in a free and civil exchange of ideas.”

Would Ryan have been given the chance to participate in such an exchange had he asked for approval, or is that right limited by a controversial topic? Shouldn’t students be allowed to participate in important decisions that relate to the college?

As a student myself, I feel that college is a time for growth. After all, I chose Springfield College because its mission spoke to me. How can we as students learn to serve others if we do not get the opportunity to participate in major topics of discussion at our own college?

The most disheartening line that has been reported about the situation by Ryan is that he was accused of doing the union’s dirty work that they could not do themselves. That line makes it seem like Ryan, a very capable student, is incapable of independent thought.

After talking with him, I am quite certain that he is an intelligent person who was by no means used by the union supporters, but instead made the conscious decision to support a cause he personally believed in. The fact that Ryan was disregarded by some as a naïve student mindlessly furthering someone else’s cause is quite frankly an insult to not only him, but to all Springfield College students.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Springfield College and everything that this college has done for me. This situation may be an isolated circumstance, but it raises questions about students’ rights.

Students are young adults, and deserve to have a say. After all, that right is guaranteed in the Student Handbook. Just because a topic is controversial does not mean that students’ rights are limited. There is no asterisk or exception to that right.

If this right is not fully respected, how can students be expected to fulfill the college’s mission to become leaders in service to humanity? Springfield College students are leaders in the making, and leaders do not sit back idly. They express themselves.

After all, they have a right.

Joe Brown can be reached at jbrown@springfieldcollege.edu

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