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Decoding the Code of Student Conduct: guidelines on student demonstrations


The Code of Student Conduct does not have an official policy on student demonstrations. What is often referred to as the “protest policy” is actually a “Statement on Student Demonstration.” Recent events on the Hill and across the US have renewed discussions of guidelines for student demonstrations at St. Olaf.


The first important clarification is that there is not an official protest policy. Rather, the Statement on Student Demonstrations functions to remind students that the Code of Student Conduct and laws apply during protests. 


Conversations about the Statement and overhaul of the Code of Student Conduct as a whole occurred in 2021. In addition to the groups mentioned above, an outside reviewer, the General Counsel, and the Dean of Students Office were involved in these conversations. 


In an interview with The Olaf Messenger, also attended by President Susan Rundell Singer and Director of Public Relations Kat Dodge, General Counsel Carl Crosby Lehmann ʼ91 said, “The current statement on demonstrations was developed by a group of students, a group of faculty, a group of staff and it was in response to previous incidents where concerns were raised that the College’s policy was interfering with free speech rights.” 


At the time, there were several complaints from various students that the policy, intended to clarify student’s right to free speech, were limitations on their ability to protest. “We had a conversation back then about the fact that while some people saw it [the guidelines] as trying to hamper free speech, really the point behind it was to reaffirm people’s rights to free speech through peaceful and orderly protesting,” Crosby Lehmann said. “What students see now published is what the group decided was the best way of balancing that.”


“We wanted to step back and make sure we weren’t silencing, unintentionally, some voices over others,” Rundell Singer said about the changes. 


Another commonly misunderstood element of the College’s stance on protesting is the misconception that they must be approved of beforehand. This is not entirely true. When asked about if students should ask to protest, Crosby Lehmann said, “It’s not a bad idea.” 


“The Code of Conduct says, ‘ask ahead if you’re not sure,’” Susan Rundell Singer said. Crosby Lehmann added, “This is not an attempt to catch people, it’s an attempt to just keep an orderly campus for everyone. It would be helpful to help understand where the boundaries are and I know student life feels the same way.” 


Reserving spaces on campus for events is the norm and may be necessary for demonstrations that occupy specific locations, such as individual rooms. 


The statement distinguishes between peaceful and disruptive protests. In addition to following federal, state, and local laws, protests on campus must not interfere with College business. 


“I think people interpret ‘peaceful’ differently. Being unduly loud, disrupting academic settings, college business, that’s not a peaceful protest, that’s disruptive,” said Rundell Singer when speaking of examples for what constitutes as interfering with college business. “I think, like with anything, it’s where’s the line between expressing yourself, which we all ought to be able to do free without judgment, and negatively impacting someone else.”


She believes that peaceful protests and discussions are more conducive to change. “You have a better shot at change by productively engaging people. So, thinking about outcomes. And people have entirely different outcomes in mind, and that’s completely their choice,” Rundell Singer said. 


When asked to respond to the common belief that protests are supposed to be disruptive, Rundell Singer said, “There’s a whole continuum, and at different points, there’s different consequences. And you make a choice, knowingly make a choice about the consequence.”


Crosby Lehmann said the idea was brought up during the 2021 conversations about the Code of Student Conduct. “This sentiment that to be effective you need to be somewhat interfering, that’s, I guess, a choice individuals make about how they want to exercise, you know, the thing we came back to and I think it’s one of the first things in that statements, it’s what the students thought was important to put first, the notion that if you violate laws of policies that’s kind of the line that if it gets crossed there’s consequences,” Crosby Lehmann said.


On the topic of consequences, Rundell Singer and Crosby Lehmann said that those decisions are made by the Dean of Students office whom they trust to apply consequences equally. “If it wasn’t even across the board, that’d be a different conversation, but I’ve seen nothing to suggest it’s anything but ‘we need to treat all students equitably,’” Rundell Singer said. 

Students involved in on-campus demonstrations or who want to learn more can read the policy for themselves: For previous reporting on the protest policy at St. Olaf, including editorials and news stories, please refer to