Following ACLU Action, University of California Ends Ban on Political Protest Abroad

January 25, 2005 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES – Under pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, the University of California announced that it will no longer tell students studying abroad that they are prevented from participating in political demonstrations, the ACLU said today.

The University of California revised its policy after the ACLU sent a letter warning school officials that the policy violated the First Amendment rights of students.

“We were particularly concerned that students were being threatened with disciplinary action if they engaged in activities that are clearly protected under the First Amendment,” said ACLU staff attorney Ahilan T. Arulanantham. “The new policy leaves more room for students to explore all aspects of life in a foreign country, including political life.”

The ACLU submitted the letter on behalf of Kathlyn Henderson, a 21-year-old English major at the University of California at Irvine. Henderson was sternly warned before she departed for her junior year in Lyon, France that she was not allowed to protest or participate in any political events while abroad. According to Henderson, a university official told her she could be subject to disciplinary action if she violated the policy.

Fearing the school would rescind her invitation to study abroad, she did not protest the warning. But while in France, Henderson said she learned that many other students had had similar experiences and were forced to lie about their activities in order to comply with the university’s blanket policy on demonstrations.

“I chose to study abroad in order to expose myself to another culture and to experience a perspective other than my own,” said Henderson. “Whether political protest is part of that experience is a decision that I should make. I don’t believe it is or should ever be the university’s decision.”

The new policy makes clear that there is no wholesale ban on participation in protests, but specifies that students may not engage in illegal actions. It also advises students to check local laws as they may differ by country, and to leave any demonstration that turns violent and dangerous.

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