Last fall semester, Wright State found itself embroiled in controversy due to its handling of a demonstration. In September 2017, the pro-life organization Created Equal came to the Quad area, displaying imagery of mutilated fetuses and handing out literature to students.
One day prior to their arrival on campus, the Wright State community received an email from Gary Dickstein, interim vice president for Student Affairs, advising that the demonstration would be taking place – a decision that was met with criticism.
State representative Niraj Antani, R-Miami Twp., found the notification and language within the email to be politically biased, arguing that the university should not “weaken people by shielding them from opinions they disagree with.”
Mark Harrington, founder and president of Created Equal, previously described Wright State’s free speech policy as “draconian.”
Nearly one year after their last visit, Created Equal has returned to Wright State, prompting another notification email from Dickstein the day before their demonstration. At last week’s demonstration, the organization brought a jumbotron to display images “depicting the gruesome reality of abortion,” according to a press release from Created Equal.
Since September 2017, there have only been two emails notifying campus that a demonstration would take place. Both times, the notifications were about Created Equal.
Seth Bauguess, director of communications at Wright State, said that the university would notify campus about any demonstration involving non-university affiliated speakers. There is no record of any non-university affiliated demonstrations since September 2017 other than Created Equal, according to Bauguess.
The decision to send notification emails had been discussed amongst university officials before the first one was ever sent. Dickstein is required to go through Communications and Marketing to send campus-wide announcements, he said.
Dickstein previously stated that students may not receive a notification for every demonstration on campus but also that the emails are not intended to dissuade nor persuade anyone from attending demonstrations.
Email notifications have not been sent prior to university-affiliated demonstrations.
“Some of it is topic specific,” Dickstein recently said. “I don’t know that we will give a heads up to every single demonstration or march that comes on campus.”
Harrington said that his organization is being targeted for its views. “You can’t single out speech based on content – that’s what they’re doing,” he said. “We should be training students to be able to handle this stuff without sending warnings like that.”
Evangeline Dunn, intern for outreach for Created Equal said that it is common for college students to receive email notifications before their organization holds a demonstration. She said that the university’s emails did not dissuade students from viewing their demonstration. “They have the right to do what they want as long as they don’t infringe on our freedom of speech.”
“It matters not what my personal beliefs are,” Dickstein said. “[Students] feel like they have a right to know what happens on their campus.” Dickstein said that he now intends to send a notification for every non-university affiliated demonstration regardless of the content of their message.
“I know what my motivations are. I do not feel badly about my motivations and I will do the same thing for every other opportunity that comes up,” Dickstein said.
In accordance with the university’s demonstration policy, Created Equal was required to register prior to holding their demonstration.
Registration requirements do not apply to “quad gods,” religious demonstrators who often show up to campus unannounced, according to Dickstein. There is no language in the university’s demonstration policy specifically addressing quad gods.
“The policy was not designed to temper or to eliminate the ability for somebody to exercise their first amendment rights spontaneously. But I realize now in talking with our general counsel and looking at it a little bit [that] you could potentially interpret it that way,” Dickstein said. “We may end up having to tweak it a little to clarify.”
Registration requirements were put in place to ensure that demonstrators understand the university’s expectations, as to not disrupt academic operations, Dickstein said. They are also intended in part for sight-impaired students who could potentially run into signage that is not normally there, according to Dickstein.
Should an organized demonstration take place on campus without having been registered under the guidelines listed in the policy, the university reserves the right to shut it down, although that is “the last thing we would ever do,” Dickstein said.