If you have something to say, the Diag isn’t necessarily the best place to be heard – especially if you’re a small student group with a fistful of pamphlets competing for attention with a large, vocal crowd. Due to a University policy that keeps schedules of student activities in the public space private, student organizations often unexpectedly face such marginalization when they plan programs on the Diag. By simply making the schedule of Diag events available to interested groups, the University could help students effectively use the public forum to their advantage without worrying about competition.
It’s understandable that many student groups are overshadowed on the Diag by the presence of organizations with the resources to fund games and free food to attract passersby. While the University tries to protect against the encroachment of one group’s display on another’s with a “shared space” stipulation, it’s still hard to compete with a moonwalk when all one has to offer is a petition and a bowl of candy. Student groups have a right to attract attention as they choose, but they should also have the right to reserve space when it will be most beneficial to them.
This dilemma could be resolved by releasing the schedule of Diag activities to organizations interested in reserving their own space. However, the University contends that revealing such information would be a violation of student groups’ privacy.
Protecting privacy is important, and the University is right to do it. In this case, though, it’s unclear what privacy is being protected. Considering that these events occur in a public space and are typically advertised, this logic is questionable. The University may potentially be protecting groups from the harassment of opposition, but it is also keeping students from making informed choices and disadvantaging groups with less resources.
In its dual role as the center of campus and the center of campus activity, the Diag is the ideal setting for student activism and interaction. It has seen passionate demonstrations against the Vietnam War and the war in Iraq, busy student organization fairs and even a dunk tank or two. The Diag is often chaotic, largely because that’s the nature of democracy on campus. However, student groups should be able to choose whether or not they want to buy into that chaos on a given day.
By withholding the list of scheduled events from students, the University is only harming the effectiveness of their groups’ public programs. They should have the right to choose whether they want to advertise their cause alongside a modest display or a speaker blasting music rather than being left to the mercy of the University’s schedulers.