Protests and Free Expression Policy

Statement of Academic and Expressive Freedom

(voted by the faculty, May 3, 2016)

Institutions of higher learning dedicate themselves to a range of goals: the pursuit of truth and knowledge, the refinement and transmission of intellectual skills, the articulation of values, the creation of works of artistic merit, and the critical examination of received wisdom. The promotion of these goals requires unstinting dedication to academic and expressive freedom. Such freedom protects the right of members of the academic community to speak, write, curate, and create without obstruction, disruption, or the fear of institutional censure, censorship, or retaliation.

This strong commitment to the freedom of inquiry lies at the heart of Amherst College’s mission to create a home in which the liberal arts may flourish. As a small residential liberal arts college that prides itself on the ability, curiosity, and diversity of its students, Amherst seeks to create a respectful environment in which members of its community feel emboldened to pursue their intellectual and creative passions. At times, the desire to foster a climate of mutual respect may test the college’s duty to protect and promote the unfettered exchange of ideas. On such occasions, the college’s obligations remain clear. The liberal arts cannot thrive absent the freedom to espouse and debate ideas that are unpopular, controversial, discomfiting—and even seemingly wrongheaded or offensive. Members of an academic community may and, indeed, should challenge and oppose ideas they find offensive and loathsome. Yet the response to disagreeable and even insulting ideas must not contravene the commitment to expressive freedom that enables the college to thrive as a space of liberal inquiry.

Even the most vigorous defense of intellectual and creative freedom knows limits. The college may properly restrict speech that, for example, is defamatory, harassing, invades a protected right to privacy or confidentiality, constitutes incitement to imminent violence, or otherwise violates the law.  It may also restrict disparaging or abusive speech (e.g., racial epithets) directed at an individual or group based on their actual or perceived affiliation with a protected class, and for which there is no reasonable academic, educational, or artistic justification (voted by the faculty, December 15, 2020).  The college may place reasonable limitations on the time, place, and manner of expression, and may restrict speech that directly interferes with core instructional and administrative functions of the college.  But these restrictions and limitations must be understood as narrow exceptions to the college’s overriding commitment to robust open inquiry (voted by the faculty, May 3, 2016).

Amherst College subscribes fully to the AAUP statements of principles on academic freedom published in 1940, and assumes that faculty members know their rights and their responsibilities as members of the academic profession.

Statement of Respect for Persons

Respect for the rights, dignity, and integrity of others is essential for the well-being of a community. Actions by any persons that do not reflect such respect for others are damaging to each member of the community and hence damaging to Amherst College. Each member of the community should be free from interference, discrimination, intimidation, sexual harassment, or disparagement in the classroom; the social, recreational, and residential environment; or the workplace. Any behavior which constitutes sexual harassment or other verbal or physical abuse of any member of the community for reasons that include, but are not limited to, race, color, religion, national origin, ethnic identification, age, political affiliation or belief, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, or physical or mental disability will be regarded as a serious violation of the Honor Code, and anyone found responsible for such behavior will be sanctioned.

Protests, Demonstrations, and Peaceful Dissent

Amherst College prizes and defends the ability of teachers and students to teach and learn free from coercive force and intimidation and subject only to the constraints of reasoned discourse and peaceful conduct. The college also recognizes that such freedoms entail responsibility for one’s actions. Thus the college encourages and facilitates the expression of views by its members so long as there is no use or threat of force, nor interference with opportunities for others to express their views.

The guidelines herein are intended to promote the safe and peaceable exchange of ideas; to transparently set forth reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions that are contemplated under both the college’s Statement of Academic and Expressive Freedom and the Statement of Freedom of Expression and Dissent; to limit the ability of people unaffiliated with Amherst College to use the college as a stage for provocation; and to preserve the ability of the college to take action in situations that threaten the safety of members of the campus community or interfere with the core instructional and administrative functions of the college. 

The guidelines apply to all Amherst College students, faculty, staff, alumni, visitors, contractors, and any other person on college property. They apply to all situations, with the exception of a guest speaker invited by a faculty member to speak in an academic course, seminar, lecture, symposium, or other academic setting. Note: If there is a possibility that a speaker in an academic course, symposium, lecture, etc. will draw a large audience or occasion protests, faculty members planning the event are urged to alert the Amherst College Police Department for help in implementing safety measures. 

Outside speakers who have 1) been invited by Amherst College students, faculty members, or staff members; 2) satisfactorily completed the college’s event planning and approval processes (see “Planning an Appearance by an Outside Speaker, a Protest, or a Demonstration,” below); and 3) agree to abide by college regulations and applicable laws, are welcome to speak on campus.

Acts of peaceful protest and demonstration—such as marches, rallies, sit-ins, and picketing—are permitted, under the conditions that follow, with the college reserving the right to restrict behaviors that directly interfere with core instructional and administrative functions of the college. 

Planning an Appearance by an Outside Speaker, a Protest, or a Demonstration

Students, Faculty, and Staff

Any Amherst College student, faculty member, or staff member who would like to bring an outside speaker to campus (except for a faculty member inviting an outside speaker to participate in an academic course, seminar, lecture, symposium, etc.), or who is planning a peaceful protest or demonstration, must consult with at least one of the following offices:

  • the Office of Student Affairs, or Student Activities,
  • the Office of the Provost and Dean of the Faculty,
  • Conferences and Special Events, or
  • the Amherst College Police Department.

This will allow the college to provide appropriate logistical support (e.g., advice regarding building occupancy limits, fire safety regulations, or other applicable laws); to minimize the disruption to the core functions of the college; and to prepare for potential counter-protest or other reactions. Senior administrators or the Chief of Police and Director of Public Safety may choose to reach out proactively to students, faculty members, or staff members planning an event to discuss safety protocols and logistical support. All members of the campus community are expected to cooperate when contacted.

The college reserves the discretion to postpone, cancel, or prohibit any speaker, protest, or demonstration if the conditions of this policy are not met.

Persons Unaffiliated with Amherst College

Without an invitation from an Amherst College student, faculty member, or staff member, unaffiliated persons who wish to speak or protest on college property must consult with, cooperate with, and receive prior written approval from the Amherst College Chief of Police and Director of Public Safety at least four weeks prior to the potential event. (Use of campus facilities and grounds is governed by the Amherst College Facility and Grounds Use Policy.)

Time, Place, and Manner

The college may place reasonable limitations on the time, place, and manner of any speaker, protest, or demonstration. Time, place, and manner restrictions may be imposed whether the event is planned by students, faculty, staff, or unaffiliated persons.

The college reserves the discretion to place time restrictions on speakers, protests, or demonstrations such that they occur inside the hours of 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The college may assign, reassign, and/or limit activities to particular locations on Amherst College property.

The core instructional and administrative functions of the college must not be disrupted. All activities must be conducted in a peaceable manner. Threats of force, use of force, use of intimidating tactics, incitements to violence, and unwelcome physical contact are all prohibited. Protests and demonstrations must not block access to the venue in which another event is being held. All building occupancy limits, fire safety regulations, and other applicable laws must be followed. No masks, weapons, or open flames are permitted, except open flames that have been approved in advance for a specific event by the Office of the Provost and Dean of the Faculty or the Office of Student Affairs. The college may restrict the use of outdoor amplification equipment and may restrict the building of any structure on campus, including tents. Organizers must remove all items and materials upon the activity’s conclusion. 


Any student, faculty member, or staff member who violates this policy may be subject to the college’s disciplinary processes and sanctions. Decisions to implement the disciplinary process will be made thoughtfully. Barring exceptional circumstances, the college will endeavor to issue a warning to any student, faculty member, or staff member before taking other actions. The college may arrest or pursue other legal action against any unaffiliated person who violates this policy.