Photo courtesy of Gab Neal

How can the F&M community productively express concerns within our campus and the broader world with respect and care? The proposed interim Protest Tree guidelines could be our answer. 

With the start of a new Spring semester, F&M’s collaboration with the Committee on Equitable and Inclusive Practices and Diplomatic Congress sent an email to the student body on new interim guidelines for our Protest Tree, which I believe is a vital avenue for advocating and expression at our college.  

The email sent by the Office of the President mentions that there have been discussions on new guidelines for what should and should not be posted on the Protest Tree. There has also been an expressed importance and need for freedom of expression when representing students’ opinions on campus. Therefore, the institution suggests guidelines made in 2022 to be looked at and implemented as new rules for the Protest Tree, as F&M is taking action to improve or implement any aspect supporting the institution’s statement of freedom of expression. 

These proposed guidelines currently serve as a draft with three main points. I will go over each of the three points directly from the email, sharing my opinion on why these new guidelines would serve significantly to the school if implemented, as well as my view on how this could positively impact our campus and any further suggestions I believe the school could implement into these guidelines.

  1. No posting of hate speech is permitted. No posts shall demean others on the basis of age, race, mental or physical health, gender or identity expression, marital or familial status, veteran status, physical appearance, disability, national or ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation, legal or socioeconomic status.

While there is great importance in the freedom of expression, this expression should not be discriminatory towards any identity group, therefore bringing upon hate speech. I believe there must be no tolerance for any form of it to support a need for safe and productive conversations on campus. I also appreciate that the groups listed have a broad array of different people represented, furthering the importance of holding respect for all kinds of people. As a possible suggestion, I would like to see the expanded guidelines tackle more on their definition of what hate speech would look like and if there would be a school-wide statement if there were to be any. 

  1. No threats shall be made towards individual members of the F&M community, nor shall individual members of the F&M community be named in any post. 

This guideline helps drive home that not only should there be respect for different identity groups mentioned in guideline one, but also that respect should be applied to the individual members of our F&M community as well. I appreciate that there is an expressed intolerance for any form of hate speech towards a member of the F&M community, as this action presents as a public attack on an individual. Creating public threats to individual members of our community in the form of hate speech devalues any form of respect for our community members. I would like to see examples of what a threat would entail, as this is currently left ambiguous if individuals’ names can be mentioned at all. Similar to my last point in Guideline One, I would also like to know if the guideline was ever broken if there would be a statement from the institution to address an issue of threats on our campus.  

  1. No one shall deface, remove, or otherwise tamper with any post that complies with the guidelines outlined in this document.

Implementing this third guideline into the official rules would be in the school’s best interest to uphold the importance of freedom of expression with the Protest Tree. It would further solidify this mission of expression while making sure no one else’s point of view is tampered with and or removed. I believe that it is crucial that any post that doesn’t break the previous guidelines deserves its spot on the tree, as we cannot hold meaningful conversations and create understanding if there is a denial of openness to various issues and other people’s viewpoints. I also believe that F&M should continue highlighting this guideline when considering its overall goal of freedom of expression. 

As previously mentioned, these three guidelines are tentative for how we as a community should approach the Protest Tree moving forward. Expanding aspects of the guidelines for further improvement is imperative, as well as continuing to listen to people who are a part of the F&M community to help make it an even more open space of expression. 

Further recommendations will be shared in late January or early February. 

Gab Neal is the Onion Dip Editor. Her email is