Recently an email was sent to residents of Moore Hall informing them of a policy that does not allow signs, flags or other decorations to be hung in dorm windows. The email quoted the Resident handbook’s “window policy,” stating: “Decorations, including but not limited to posters, flags, signs, writings, stickers, and banners, are not permitted on windows in residential rooms, residential hallways, or in residential lounges within University residence halls. NO items of any kind are to be hung or displayed on windows or from windows in these areas.” Students were required to take their flags/signs/decorations down that same day the email was sent by 11:59pm or they may have faced documentation.
This is a policy that many students were unaware of, myself included. While those of us that live on campus obviously signed the housing contract — so we agreed to follow this policy — I do find it to be problematic.
There is a different section of the Resident handbook that lists permitted decorations and it states that “no decoration may block the use of windows, doors or cause tripping hazards on the floors.” The primary use of a window is to be opened and closed to provide air flow and to look outside if a resident chooses. Obviously, the primary purpose of a window in a dorm is not to be seen into, so why does it matter if decorations are hung up in windows if the resident is still able to open or close it if necessary? If it does not block the use of the window, then it is solely because of the potential content that could be displayed in the windows, which in my opinion, is a violation of our First Amendment rights.
I live in an apartment-style dorm on campus; I pay for my college (which includes my dorm) out of pocket each month, like rent at an off campus apartment. I live on campus because of the convenience and because I enjoy living with my friends. I live on campus, which comes with a set of rules; I accept that. However, I do not think those rules should interfere with my ability to express myself. I don’t think those rules should have anything to do with the decorations in my room, unless it’s about what I use to hang them up which is for damage control purposes. I don’t think these rules should infringe on anyone’s right to expression unless it poses clear and present danger, which as far as I know, has not been an issue for any flags or signs sitting in windows. Not only has hanging things in windows not caused an uproar, but it’s typically been used as a form of entertainment. I remember walking to SoVi last semester and seeing people write messages with Post-it notes. They would say “hi” and “bring food.” These signs weren’t hurting anybody. These displays were humorous; these displays were done by Post-it notes, which weren’t going to leave any damage on glass, and certainly didn’t “block” the use of the windows.
I’ve also walked by dorms that have had Trump flags or Pride flags, both of which can stir up emotions in people on opposite ends of the political spectrum. I’ve seen posts on Only_49ers where people have complained about these flags or signs, but I’ve never seen fights start because of them. I’ve never seen them cause a clear and present danger.
In the Supreme Court Case Schenk v. United States, it was established that free speech can only be infringed upon when it presents clear and present danger. Unless there was some form of danger or chaos occurring that the residents have not been informed of, there is no present and clear danger that comes with hanging signs or flags in front of windows. There is no reason why this form of expression should be censored.
The same rule came about at Ohio State University in 2017 and students were displeased with the policy, claiming that it was a violation of their First Amendment rights. David Goldberger, a former constitutional law professor at OSU’s Moritz College of Law, stated: “A campus is supposed to be a place where all manner of viewpoints can be expressed. University students aren’t children.”
This is exactly right. We aren’t children. We are adults. We are adults with opinions and whose money is paying for the space we’re living in. If you live on campus, whether you’re making monthly payments like me or taking out loans and paying them back later, you’re paying to live on this campus. You’re paying for that window. We’re paying for that space, and if it’s not causing any sort of danger, then we should be able to use the space within those four walls as we so choose, so long as it does not present clear danger to someone else.