A group of approximately 150 protesters assembled on the steps of the Athens County Courthouse Friday evening to protest Ohio University’s new interim policies that critics have accused of restricting free speech on campus.
Protesters later led a march across campus before ending the action at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on College Green.
Protesters present were not necessarily associated with any political groups on campus. Instead protest organizer Madhulika Pesala describes participants as “individuals opposed to Ohio University policies 24.014 & 24.016, and the general suppression and policing of leftist speech.”
Several members of the Athens chapter of the International Socialist Organization participated in the protest, displaying a banner that promoted their organization. Several protesters also held signs with the group’s solidarity symbol.
Regardless of political affiliation, protesters shared a common goal that was echoed the aforementioned letter to the editor (which also was sent to The New Political).
“The goal… is to begin building a movement in order to get the university to rescind its ‘freedom of expression’ policy, as well as its policy regulating the use of outdoor space,” Daniel Kington, media contact for the ISO, said on Thursday.
The Athens Police Department had a presence at the protest, with around a dozen officers watching and following the protest rally and march from a distance.
Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle said that the APD was there “for safety reasons.”
Protesters took note of the police presence throughout the night.
“They never really say anything to anyone; they just kind of stand and gaze at a distance,” said protester Olivia Stefanoff, an OU student. “I think it’s just all intimidation.”
Moments before the protest was scheduled to begin, a masked counter-protester in a Trump T-shirt appeared across the street holding a sign that disparaged participants of the protest, including the slogan “commie lives don’t matter.” He then left but only after attempting to use his car horn to drown out the sound of the speakers at the protest.
As the official protest began, organizers invited a variety of speakers that included both faculty and students. University professors Ziad Abu-Rish, Catherine Euler, and Louis-Georges Schwartz all gave short speeches about topics ranging from Gandhi to the role of police in society.
In addition, graduate student activist Jolana Ozara gave a short speech about the Black Lives Matter movement.
After hearing from these first four speakers, protesters left the steps of the courthouse and marched through campus, reciting chants such as “Where is Jenny Hall-Jones?” and “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here.”
After marching through campus, the protest ended at the Monument on College Green, where participants heard from two more former and current student activists.
The first speaker, Prince Shakur, graduated from OU in 2015, and during his tenure at the university gained a reputation as an outspoken progressive activist. At the protest Friday, he spoke of his activism while he was a student and his experiences protesting against the Dakota Pipeline.
The second speaker, Dylan Vanover, a member of the ISO and current undergraduate student at OU, spoke about the protesters’ demands and the consequences for the administration not meeting them.
“If Duane Nellis doesn’t completely repeal this policy by Nov. 8 and put nothing in its place, then everybody, students and faculty, are going on strike,” Vanover said.
As the night drew to an end, members of the protest passed out fliers promoting an upcoming art exhibition that features the “hanging” of the Confederate Flag.
The period for public feedback on OU’s controversial speech policies came to an end on Friday. See a related story today for more information on the policies and what the university’s next steps will be in possibly updating or rescinding them.