Residence Life: Big Brother is Watching You

Claude Wolfer,

Courtesy of Jenni Berrios

In the days before and after the 2020 election there is one thing that you did not see on campus… campaign signs. In the days leading up to the election, Ursinus Residence Life asked students living in residence halls to remove their campaign signs and messages from their windows.

Student Chrissy Foley says that in Olevian Hall, “we had signs up like Biden/Harris 2020, Vote Him Out, Black Lives Matter, and a reproductive rights poster that said don’t tread on me and had a snake as a uterus.” Foley shares that they were contacted by Residence Life the same afternoon the signs were hung and were told to remove the signs immediately. Olevian residents were told that the signs made students ‘uncomfortable’ and incite political tension on campus. Foley says, “what upset me the most personally was taking down the Black Lives Matter and reproductive rights signs, because they are not political, they’re basic human rights.” The Floy Lewis Bakes center currently displays a Black Lives Matter flag, yet students, such as Foley, have been asked to remove the same message in the windows of their residence hall.

Another student, Michael Sicilia, says, “I had a ‘f**k Trump’ sign in my window that I was asked to remove because Residence Life told me that signs could not endorse one specific political party or candidate, nor can they have vulgarity… I understand not wanting vulgarity, but I was not endorsing Biden. I just said f**k Trump.”

Ursinus College wishes to pride itself on empowering students to make political change in their communities, touting G.O.T.V. initiatives on the college’s social media and sharing messages of “let your voice be heard” on Instagram. On their website, UC Residence Life states that their mission is to “work with students to develop their independence, their ability to communicate effectively, and their appreciation for and engagement in a vibrant and diverse community.” While it is clear that as a private institution, Ursinus has the authority to restrict expression, doing so is not consistent with how the college chooses to market itself. How can Ursinus simultaneously wish for their students to be independent thinkers that are engaged in diverse civic discourse, and censor student political expression?Students are not blind to the political climate at Ursinus. They live and experience it every single day. Ursinus is polarized. Political signs are not a catalyst for tension — bigotry and hatred are. Ursinus cannot wish to empower its students to be independent thinkers, a core piece of the liberal arts, while actively repressing student expression. Students are diverse, independent thinkers both inside and outside of the classroom. The residence halls, according to Residence Life, are an extension of this. I ask Ursinus, how should we live together? A campus that acts as Big Brother, or a campus that is supportive and encouraging of student political dialogue?