NACA BLOG - Creating Space for Protest During a Pandemic - 11/30/2020

​Nov. 30, 2020
Dr. Ashley Storman, Maryville University (MO) 

Summer 2020 was a whirlwind! While we were living through a pandemic that consisted of stay-at-home orders and social distancing, we all felt somewhat disconnected from our students. We could not socialize, engage, and get the energy we typically do from our students when they were on-campus and in the office. Instead, most of us worked from home trying to figure out this new normal, where our home now became our office and work literally lived in your home. To add to the chaos of the pandemic and COVID-19, this was a very traumatic summer, especially for those individuals that identify as Black/African American. We witnessed around 164 deaths of Black men and women due to overt racism, white supremacy, police brutality, and misuse of white privilege that resulted in many African American deaths this summer. 
As student affairs professionals, we thrive off relationships and understand their importance, but this was a tough time because we were not in the student center or residence halls to see our students and how they were coping. We could not gauge and get a temperature check on how they were doing, what they wanted to do, or what was next. We had to rely on our champions, those professionals who have their foot on the ground and work closely with our students and engage with them via zoom or lurking their social media accounts to help us get an accurate illustration of how our students were doing. 
With so much going on, there was an uproar of protest happening in nearly every state supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. This left many of us student affairs professionals questioning and wondering what the fall would look like and if our student want to use their voice and protest. More importantly, if this was even possible during a pandemic? 
As a small private institution that promotes the work of social justice and prides ourselves in developing inclusive leaders, we have never had to deal with any rally, protest, or demonstration. However, with anticipation at the front of everything we do, we knew we needed to update our policies to guide students as they organized and prepared for their demonstrations and protest. 
The demonstrations and protest guidelines (pages 137-143) that we developed consisted of six key sections, and I will provide highlights of each step: 
Freedom of expression

  • This policy was already in place at our institution. It was a significant step to emphasize further the support of students' freedom of expression with a few edits concerning demonstrations and protests. 
General Guidelines for Demonstrations

  • Requested that planned demonstration register and work with the University Events Office and the Center for Student Engagement to be a sanctioned event or gathering. Understanding that demonstrations and protests are often happening in reaction to a current event, and that is not always practical.
  • Emphasis on the student code of conduct outlines expectations and prohibited conduct applicable to all university activities, including demonstrations.
  • The impromptu portion reiterates that the university supports free speech and expression and is protective of all members' health and safety. Further explaining that protest and demonstration are generally permitted and supported until or unless determined that others' rights were infringed upon. 

Responsibilities of Organizers and Participants

  • Must be a university community member and meet with the director of diversity & inclusion or student life no less than 48 hours before the gathering.
  • The demonstration is to be scheduled no less than two business days after the meeting. The organizer is responsible for communicating the parameters that have been set to all participants before the event.
  • Gathering can proceed once approved, and the directors notify the organizer. 

Special Circumstances

  • Focused on the opportunity for counterdemonstrations
  • Vigils and use of the open flame guidelines if necessary 

University Response

  • Activities, programs, and events must not disrupt official university functions or operations.
  • Civil disobedience is not protected speech.
  • Violators will be held to the student code of conduct for violations of these guidelines and policies. 


  • It consisted of 10 definitions to assist the reader if needed. 
As soon as we finalized our demonstration and protest guidelines and the doors of campus opened with many social distancing practices in order, we received our very first request by the Association of Black Collegians (ABC) with an exact stamp of the event to happen in 48 hours. The organizers communicated with me the director of diversity and inclusion as instructed. The next day, we had a meeting in a place that consisted of representatives in student life, diversity and inclusion, public safety, counseling services, university events, and the student organizers. In this meeting, we provided students an opportunity to be heard and understand what they wanted. Together we planned the Be the Change Rally for Black Lives Matter. We were socially distanced with markers on the football field. Students had to reserve a spot for participation. We offered two different times to allow as many students as possible to participate safely. As the rally began, students were welcomed and delivered impactful speeches by three student leaders: Presidents of ABC, member of the Black Male Initiative, and ally and friend from the Muslim community. Students then participated in a moment of silence for 8 minutes to honor George Floyd. They ended with a rally and chants around campus with the support of public safety and many administrators and staff members. 
The Rally organized by the ABC was a success for our university. We had over 60 students who participated, provided an opportunity for students' voices to be heard, and organized their demonstration how they pictured with the university's assistance with no student conduct issues. Implementing our new guideline for demonstrations and protest speaks to the importance of anticipation and the university's partnership and support and the students that we serve. 
Dr. Ashley Storman (she/her) is the director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Maryville University. Her doctoral degree is in higher education leadership with an emphasis in teaching from Maryville University. Dr. Storman has 14 years of experience admissions, retention, mentor programs, academic coaching, program development, and diversity & inclusion. 
Related Professional Competencies: Policy Knowledge, Development & Management; Legal Issues & Risk Management 
CBS News Police in the U.S. Killed 164 Black People in the First 8 month of 2020. These are their names. (2020, November 15). Retrieved from:    
Central Michigan University Manual on University Policies and Procedures. (2020. July 2). Retrieved from:  
Fordham University Student Handbook Demonstration Policy. (2020, July 2). Retrieved from:  
John Hopkins University Policies and Guidelines. (2020, July 2). Retrieved from:   
Ohio State University Board of Trustee, Prohibited Conduct. (2020, July 1). Retrieved from:

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