Almost 40 percent of University of Michigan undergraduate students live in dorms, including almost every first-year student. That is 10,000 students eating, socializing, studying and sleeping in residence halls.
In the last few years, the University has gone to great lengths to make students feel like their residence hall is more than just a dorm, but it is their home and their community. Unfortunately, this concern has not carried over to the University embracing these communities as a place for dialogue and discussion. During the 2008 campaign season, University Housing sporadically banned student groups from canvassing in the residence halls. The current written policy infringed on students’ right to political speech in 2008 and, if not changed immediately, will prove equally detrimental to campaign efforts in 2010.
That is why the U-M Undergraduate ACLU chapter teamed up with the ACLU of Michigan, U-M law school ACLU chapter and Washtenaw Branch ACLU to send the university a message:
University Housing must not only respect the First Amendment rights of students in the residence halls; they should encourage the free exercise of ideas. It is the conversations that we have with our neighbors and our peers that make the University a vibrant, stimulating community. It is these discussions that allow students to discover a world outside of their hometowns. It is this atmosphere that promotes education and understanding. And it is these interactions that can make the old dorms a true community.
By Bennett Stein, ACLU U-M Undergraduate Chapter board member