SUNY protest policies and the current pandemic

The following message was sent to the campus community on Friday, Aug. 28:

New Paltz Students, Faculty and Staff,

As a public university, we strongly encourage members of our community to engage in the issues of the day, whether they be campus-based or international in scope. Lawful protests and demonstrations are a longstanding approach to bringing attention to important issues and making views known. We have a long tradition of such activity on our campus. We fully support that right to lawful, peaceful protest on campus.

At the same time, we have the responsibility to ensure the safety of protestors engaged in the expression of their First Amendment rights and the safety and welfare of members of the campus community and its visitors. This is especially critical during a pandemic.

This year, public health policies must be followed during protest activities, including mask wearing and appropriate social distancing. We also have the responsibility to regulate time, place and manner of such activities to ensure that lawful protest does not interfere with the educational activities of students, faculty and staff, the normal functioning of the College and public health.

For that reason, we must prohibit protesters from indoor protests this year. Those who do may face judicial or legal consequences.

Existing Protest Policies

We encourage all students who are planning and organizing demonstrations to become familiar with longstanding SUNY, New York State, and campus rules and regulations regarding protests, demonstrations and similar gatherings. We also encourage faculty or staff who may advise student organizers to be aware of these regulations and to guide students appropriately.

These regulations begin on page four of the Student Handbook, which all students sign as having read. These regulations provide guidelines for making your views known in respectful ways that do not impede others in conducting university business and seeking their education. This year, the Student Handbook also requires students to follow public health directives or face judicial consequences.

Guidelines for Campus Community Members

We want to be certain also that employees working in spaces where demonstrations may occur are aware of appropriate and disallowed behaviors and actions. We are providing clear guidelines for departmental and unit leaders to respond should protests or demonstrations escalate to the point that they generate concerns about safety and security, either for employees or for demonstrators.

As a general guideline for those leading or organizing a protest, protesting or rallying out of doors (as opposed to inside campus buildings) carries substantially less risk of violating regulations that can lead to judicial discipline or legal consequences.

Examples of the kinds of activities that are allowed by the regulations include:

  • Holding non-disruptive protests or rallies outside (providing that noise levels do not interfere with classroom activities in nearby buildings and access to buildings is not blocked) on the Excelsior Concourse, outside the Haggerty Administration Building or the concourse outside the Student Union Building (where most peaceful demonstrations at New Paltz occur).
  • Peaceful picketing and other orderly demonstrations in public areas of campus grounds and buildings.
  • Following appropriate procedures (filling out a Facilities Use request through ENGAGE), to gain permission to use campus grounds to ensure safe and secure gatherings.

Examples of disruptive behavior that are specifically identified in the regulations and that may be subject to discipline, restitution or arrest include:

  • Entering any private office without permission.
  • Blocking hallways and entrances and exits to buildings.
  • Walking through a building and shouting or pounding on walls and doors.
  • Generating noise levels that interfere with normal instruction, lectures, speakers and meetings.
  • Opening doors to classrooms and yelling and disrupting classroom and other campus activities.
  • Not allowing individuals to leave or enter their offices.
  • Damaging university property, even if unintentionally, or creating conditions that incur cleanup or repair costs.
  • Entering and remaining in a building after it has closed.

Center for Student Engagement is a Valuable Resource for Planning a Protest

We also ask that anyone planning a protest or any faculty or staff member who is aware of a planned protest, to meet ahead of time with Erica Wagner, assistant director of community and civic engagement. Experience on campus has shown that protest organizers who meet with a staff member in advance to discuss their plans have received valuable guidance for what is allowed and not allowed under state and campus policies. These meetings have led to many successful and peaceful, non-disruptive actions on campus, which has allowed for successful expression of the campus community members’ views without compromising safety or campus operations.

Targeting or Harassing Individuals

We also call your attention to the College’s anti-harassment policy as written in sections 9.00-9.03 of the Student Handbook and Code of Conduct. Violating this policy by targeting or harassing an individual student or employee may lead to judicial or other consequences. Students or employees with views that you don’t agree with have a right to be here and to attend classes and participate in activities and conduct university business.

We also remind students of the pathways you have through your representative student governance structures (Student Association, Residence Hall Student Association) to bring issues and concerns forward to the administration for consideration.


Stephanie Blaisdell
Vice President for Student Affairs