Activism Ban Rescinded

August 31, 2018

Southern Illinois University Athletics recently rescinded a change to the Student Athlete Code of Conduct that forbade student-athletes from any political activism.

According to the Daily Egyptian, the passage had required members of the athletics department, including student-athletes, cheerleaders and spirit members, to remain neutral on political issues, and that displays of activism “will not be tolerated and may result in dismissal from the program.” Liz Jarnigan, SIU's Senior Woman Administrator, had originally provided the language.

“It is a privilege and not a right to be a student-athlete, cheerleader or spirit member at Southern Illinois University,” Jarnigan wrote.

Tom Weber, Associate Athletic Director over Communications, said the change had been intended to provide the school's student-athletes and fans with a positive experience. 

“However, some have interpreted the language to suggest that our aim was to restrict the free speech rights of our students – that was never our intent,” Weber said. “We fully support the free expression of ideas and opinions among our students and the entire Saluki family.”

Ed Yohnka, Director of Communications and Public Policy at the the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, expressed concern over the policy's language.

“Southern Illinois University’s new policy suggesting that players or cheerleaders could be removed from their respective program for peaceful ‘displays of activism’ falls short of the critical responsibility of a public university to honor and protect free speech rights for their students,” Yohnka said.

William Freivogel, a Professor of Media Law at SIU, said the rules do not make any sense, noting that they punished students for protesting, but did not punish displays of patriotism or faith.

“Rules favoring apathy over activism discriminate on the content of the speech – and they don’t make sense,” Freivogel said. “Don’t we want our student leaders to be activists in shaping society, not people who stand mutely on the sidelines?”

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