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Friday, August 14, 2020

Changes to demonstration, weapons rules to go before Board of Trustees

By Aaron Gillis

Amendments have been made to two Washington Administrative Code (WAC) regulations regarding demonstrations on campus and firearms and dangerous weapons.

The changes will need to be reviewed and approved by the Board of Trustees, Jennifer Sloan, Western’s rules coordinator, said. The Board will be meeting on April 13.

The regulation titled “Demonstrations” has been renamed to “Freedom of expression and prohibited conduct,” and the one titled “Firearms and Dangerous Weapons” has been changed to “Weapons and armaments prohibited.”

Both were initially amended through emergency changes in October.

The university’s restrictions on demonstrations on campus (such as requiring a campus community sponsor for a presence in Red Square) drew some criticism as potentially violating First Amendment rights.

The emergency rule changes made in October include that those outside the campus community need a sponsor to speak on campus. // Photo by Tyler Morris

But the university said the measures are a commitment to safety. Paul Cocke, director of communications and marketing at Western, told the Front in October that the changes were in response to violent demonstrations on campuses across the nation.

“The university further recognizes that it is committed to a safe campus, ensuring the safety of its community members and preventing loss or damage to its facilities or property,” a newly added section of the freedom of expression and prohibited conduct chapter says.

The freedom of expression and prohibited conduct chapter also now states that threatening the health or safety of others by statement or implication is prohibited, as well as contact or communication in a threatening nature.

Members of the campus community and visitors must now also obtain prior written authorization at the university public safety department if they wish to bring a firearm or weapon on campus.

A valid concealed pistol license is not an exemption under the new chapter, and is not allowed on campus, but is allowed in one’s car with proper licensing.  

These amendments come at a time of protests nationwide, including at Western, against gun violence.

Western students protesting gun violence at the walkout held on March 14. // Photo by October Yates

One person against the changes submitted an email response to the rules coordinator in October.

“I urge the rule-makers to remember that freedom of speech and assembly, no matter how distasteful they may be, should be protected as long as they do not pose a direct physical threat to students or property,” they said.

Eric Alexander, the associated dean of student engagement and director of the Viking Union, responded to the email at the public hearing on Tuesday, March 13.

“We are committed to freedom of speech and assembly. We are very much taking to heart the principles of being and have throughout this process worked very closely with our attorneys general to ensure that we are engaging in content-neutral determinations about free speech and expression and that the conduct we are supportive of is clearly demonstrated in this WAC,” Alexander said.

The email response also advocated for gun policy to possibly be loosened on campus to allow students to carry firearms.

“I believe that having properly educated, properly equipped and properly trained students will decrease fear because people will know that they are ready,” the email said. “I advocate for a culture of preparedness and empowerment.”

Director of Public Safety and University Chief of Police Darin Rasmussen responded to the email at the hearing.

“As we look at weapons, we want to make sure we are providing a safe and secure place for the educational mission of the University to continue, and we believe that this amendment of the WAC does that,” Rasmussen said.

Alexander encouraged anyone wanting to engage in discussion to visit https://wp.wwu.edu/timeplacemanner. Written submissions about the rule changes can be sent to Jennifer Sloan at jennifer.sloan@wwu.edu.

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