Forms of free speech were barred from entering the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) public hearing, according to several Ferris students.
The event, held Wednesday, April 12, in the University Center, was meant to collect public opinion on whether Nestlé should be able to increase the amount of groundwater being pumped at a site in Osceola County from 250 gallons per minute to 400 gallons per minute.
Approximately 600 people were in attendance to make their voices heard and more than 100 people had already signed up to speak during the public hearing two hours before the event began. Among those in attendance, were several members of Ferris’ Bulldog Sustainability Alliance (BSA), Conscious Consumers Coalition and FSU Outdoor Club RSOs, who were holding a sit-in in opposition of the proposed increased water draw.
Two members of the BSA arrived with a banner to support their cause, but were told they would not be allowed to bring it in. Multiple police officers were present to enforce the policy and keep the peace.
“As a student group on this campus, we were given certain rights. This is on our campus. This is our community. We are an organization dedicated to this,” said Ferris communication and public advocacy senior and BSA member Michael Williams. “We’re guaranteed this right especially at a state hearing. This is censorship at its finest and it should not be going on.”
Signs posted in the University Center—bearing the Ferris State logo and posted near doors on the east and west sides of the building—warned attendees against bringing in signs or banners, chanting or unapproved solicitation during the event.
“We have the right to protest. We have the right to speak up. And we are not being allowed signs in our university. We have rights guaranteed by the university as members of student organizations to free speech on campus, but because the state is here, we aren’t going to abide by that tonight,” Williams said.
Ferris’ Code of Student Community Standards outlines the university’s right to regulate activities in campus facilities.
“The University’s Division of Student Affairs shall be responsible for administering policies and procedures to regulate campus activities and to control the use of University facilities in order to, amongst other legitimate purposes, maintain order on campus, avoid disruption of the educational mission, promote an educational atmosphere, and promote safety and security,” the Ferris Code of Student Community Standards reads.
The Vice President for Student Affairs is responsible for issuing such policies, which must be approved by President David Eisler according to the Code of Student Community Standards.
Ferris Vice President for Student Affairs Jeanine Ward-Roof was unavailable for comment on the matter.
“I have never seen these signs and the weird thing is they are Ferris State University signs. When we had Shapiro, these signs weren’t out,” Williams said. “We’ll be loud about it. While we are being quieted tonight, we will make it known that people are trying to censor us and that’s unacceptable.”