After a demonstration on the University of Kentucky’s campus earlier this week turned tense, questions have been raised about rules and guidelines around protests on campus.
Since UK is a public university, people are allowed to gather, protest and hold speeches on campus, according to university administrative regulations. Many protests and marches have taken place at UK in recent years, about issues from graduate student pay to racial equity on campus.
Protests earlier this week were centered around religion, with one demonstrator wearing a shirt that said “Women are property.” Some students attempted to engage with the protesters.
“The university condemns the hateful remarks made by visitors on our campus Monday,” UK spokesperson Whitney Siddiqi said. “Our students, faculty and staff contribute each day to a community of belonging where all people are welcome and supported. And we know that our community is stronger than those who seek to divide.”
UK is “committed to protecting the free speech rights of every community member and fostering an environment where students can hone their civic voices through respectful, robust debates,” Siddiqi added.
Students gather on campus around a group of protestors directing hate towards targeted groups. Follow this thread for further updates. pic.twitter.com/p6VF0xdcmY
— Kentucky Kernel (@KyKernel) September 25, 2023
What is allowed on campus?
“The University does not impose restrictions on speech except where such restrictions are reasonable, justified without reference to the content of the speech, narrowly tailored to serve a significant university interest, and leave open ample alternative channels of communication,” according to the university’s regulation.
Gatherings and protests can be hosted as long as they are conducted in lawful and peaceful manners, and generally do not interfere with university operations. Outdoor spaces at UK are designated as public forums under Kentucky law, and usually do not require permission to be used for protests or demonstrations, Siddiqi said.
“Our campus is a public space,” Siddiqi said. “And under Constitutional, federal and state laws, we have a responsibility to ensure that public space is accessible to everyone.”
There are a few restrictions for gathering in outdoor spaces. For example, speakers can not be in the streets, parking lots or sidewalks of the university, and cannot block pedestrian traffic. Speakers cannot host gatherings in the Patterson Plaza without prior approval — the area between the Patterson Office Tower, Miller Hall, the Main Building and White Hall — or in the areas outside the UK Medical Center. Indoor spaces may have different requirements and restrictions for taking place, which can vary by building, Siddiqi said.
Where are protests allowed?
UK also limits when outdoor gatherings can be held. Anything after 7 p.m. or before 7 a.m. requires prior approval and reservations. Additionally, if a demonstration wishes to include amplified sound (like a microphone), organizers need to get prior approval, according to the policy.
There are also certain outdoor areas of campus that require a reservation before a protest, speech or gathering can be held there, including a university athletic facility, intramural field, the lawn of the Main Building and areas near residence halls. In general, no protests and gatherings are allowed to take place around the UK Medical Center, Maxwell Plaza, or in streets and driveways.
These regulations are enforced by the Vice President for Student Success Kirsten Turner, according to the policy.
If a demonstration gets out of hand, UK police may get involved.
“Once learning about a demonstration, UK Police are on site to ensure the safety of all involved,” Siddiqi said.
UK police were at the protest on Monday, along with staff from the Office of Student Success. If demonstrators violate UK policies or state laws, police may intervene to conduct interviews or arrests.