ResLife restricts dorm canvassing

By Alex Park

A Macalester Residential Life policy may be hindering students’ free speech rights, say members of the student organization Macalester Democrats. The claim came on Oct. 20 after the Department of Residential Life denied members of the organization permission to knock on doors in Doty Hall as part of its campaign efforts in advance of Tuesday’s midterm elections.

“I have a right to free speech and a guarantee from the State of Minnesota that I can campaign within the dormitory,” read a release compiled by Molly Griffard ’09, Co-Chair of the Mac Dems, that was handed out at an impromptu gathering of organization members in the Doty first-floor lounge following the denial, which came the week before Fall Break. Erin Murphy, who is running for Minnesota State House in District 64A as the DFL candidate and had arrived to campaign with the Mac Democrats, was also present. District 64A, which includes Macalester and the surrounding neighborhood, is currently represented by Matt Entenza ’83, who is vacating the seat.

According to Section 36.7 of the Macalester Student Handbook, for the three months before general elections, candidates have the right to “solicit in Residence Halls,” provided they remain in the dorm lounge and with a Residential Life staff member.

This is in accordance with Section 211B.20, Subdivision 1 of Minnesota Statutes, which allows “campaign workers accompanied by the candidate,” access to a dorm or residence hall, “if the candidate and workers seeking admittance to the facility do so solely for the purpose of campaigning.”

Griffard said the organization had no intentions of knocking on doors except to encourage people to vote on Tuesday and to vote for Democrats. Although Murphy was present, the organization confirmed that it had intended for her to stay in the Doty 1 lounge in accordance with school policy.

Nonetheless, Jim Hoppe, Associate Dean of Students, who helps to oversee the Department of Residential Life, said that the issue was foremost about the safety of campus residents. Section 45 of the Student handbook specifically prohibits solicitation in Residence Halls. That policy, he said, “focuses on security, and who you allow into the Residential Halls.”

Allowing a legislative candidate to campaign in Residence Halls is effectively giving someone from outside the community “organized access” to the building, and is therefore a violation of policy, Hoppe said. On the other hand, “residents going door-to-door to talk to other residents…is fine.”

Hoppe added that if a student organization were interested in bringing a candidate to campus, the organization should consider the Campus Center.

Griffard said the issue is more significant than deciding where on campus candidates can visit.

“The bigger controversy is if school policy is supporting or suppressing civic engagement…saying that campaigning is ‘selling ideas’ and is therefore solicitation is problematic,” Griffard said in an interview.

Currently, the Mac Dems and the Dean of Students Office, which oversees the Department of Residential Life, are discussing the situation and expect to reach a compromise sometime after Tuesday’s elections.

“The administration is being really helpful,” Jake Levy-Pollans ’09, a Mac Dems member, said. “I think this will turn out well.”

Both parties declined to comment on the exact nature of the agreement until a compromise is reached.

Staff Writer Angela Whited contributed to this report