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Senior Harvard Officials Clarify Protest Guidelines as Students Return to Campus

Harvard administrators outlined the forms of protest and dissent that violate University policies in a Friday email to affiliates.
Harvard administrators outlined the forms of protest and dissent that violate University policies in a Friday email to affiliates. By Michael Gritzbach
By Emma H. Haidar and Cam E. Kettles, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard’s top brass outlined the forms of protest and dissent that violate University policies in an email to Harvard affiliates Friday afternoon, a warning that comes after months of intense campus protests in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war.

The email, sent three days before classes resume for the spring, was signed by interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 and 15 top deans across the University.

The statement reminded affiliates that protests are not permitted in classrooms, libraries, dormitories, dining halls, Harvard offices, or “other places in which demonstrations and protests would interfere with the normal activities of the University.”

The email also reaffirmed that the University-wide Statement on Rights and Responsibilities — a document first created in the wake of intense anti-Vietnam War protests on campus — bars protesters from preventing invited speakers from talking or audience members from hearing them.

Harvard’s policies on protest and dissent were outlined in a new “Guidance on Protest and Dissent,” which was endorsed by the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body.

While the guidance does not explicitly add new rules to existing policies on protest and dissent, it does clarify and make explicit which spaces are off-limits for protests and other forms of dissent.

The move comes amid heightened attention on pro-Palestine and pro-Israel protests on Harvard’s campus. The University faced increased scrutiny in the fall, including from some members of Congress, about how and if students will be disciplined if they are found to violate protest guidelines.

There are currently at least two known instances of disciplinary action taken following pro-Palestine protests on campus, including after a 24-hour occupation of University Hall in November.

The new guidelines effectively limit campus protest to outdoor areas like courtyards or event spaces reserved in advance. However, the statement also said that rallies that interfere “with the free flow of vehicular, bicycle, or pedestrian traffic” are prohibited.

In the statement, Harvard leadership said they wanted to release a statement to clarify the University’s policies “both for those seeking to understand how the University-wide Statement would apply to planned expressive activity and for faculty, staff, and disciplinary boards charged with implementing it.”

“We also reaffirm our commitment to the University-wide Statement’s crucial policy that one may not exercise those rights in a way that ‘interfere[s] with members of the University in performance of their normal duties and activities,’” the statement read.

In November, the Harvard College Administrative Board opened disciplinary cases against eight students that participated in the 24-hour occupation of University Hall. Four additional pro-Palestine activists were called before the Ad Board in December for leading or participating in pro-Palestine “week of action” events.

In early November, pro-Palestine activism on campus underwent a significant shift. While early protests were organized primarily by the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and Graduate Students 4 Palestine — both recognized student organizations — more recent protests have been organized by groups without any formal recognition from the University.

The Friday announcement does not specifically address unrecognized groups, who are not permitted to stage demonstrations or hold protests on campus whatsoever. Many such unauthorized protests — including the November “week of action” — have taken place anyway.

During multiple rallies, organizers led protesters inside campus buildings, including the Science Center and Widener Library. Such actions, previously ambiguous under protest guidelines, have now been explicitly prohibited.

The expanded guidelines do not impose specific restrictions on speech itself, a particularly contentious aspect of the pro-Palestine protests this fall. The statement explicitly affirms free speech and the right to protest as “integral to the values” of the University.

While Gay previously condemned the phrase “from the river to the sea,” the restrictions do not prohibit such slogans.

It is unclear how activist groups will respond to the guidance or how it will impact campus activism as students return from winter break, but the announcement suggests that a stricter approach will be taken to protests that violate the University’s policies.

—Staff writer Emma H. Haidar can be reached at Follow her on X @HaidarEmma.

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at Follow her on X @cam_kettles or on Threads @camkettles.

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