Young Democratic Socialists, College Republicans, and College Democrats Demand Change in University Policy

CLARION, Pa. (EYT) – Three student political organizations at Clarion University have achieved a rarity in politics. They all agree on something.

(Photo of a recent Democratic Debate Watch Party held by the Clarion University Young Democratic Socialists of America.)

Young Democratic Socialists of America, College Republicans, and College Democrats all agree on one issue….All are against a policy that prohibits the groups from canvassing, essentially going door-to-door at campus residence halls in an effort to inform other students about their candidates in this year’s presidential election.

The issue first came to attention in a story in the Clarion Call, a student newspaper that spotlighted efforts by the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) to conduct door-to-door campaigning.

“I am reaching out to you because YDSA began a canvassing campaign on campus the first week of February, and have since been informed that the university’s solicitation ban prohibits door-to-door political activity,” wrote Carl Shepard, co-chair of Clarion University’s chapter of YSDA, to “Before we had started our canvassing we had made sure to look over this very policy, which we believed was clearly written only to stop commercial speech.”

The Clarion University Policy states:

Canvassing or solicitation for funds, sales, or subscriptions is prohibited on campus or in Clarion University buildings unless written permission has been granted by the Clarion Students’ Association (or designee). Additionally, outside and for-profit groups are not allowed to sell items or solicit members of the Clarion University community on campus without prior approval from the Clarion Students’ Association (or designee). Posters, flyers and other event advertisements pertaining to sales and solicitation for funds, sales or subscriptions must be approved by the Clarion Students’ Association (or designee) prior to posting or distribution. The sale of merchandise, or publications or service on Clarion University property, other than by contracted vendors, authorized stores, restaurants, departments or divisions of Clarion University, is likewise prohibited except upon written permission of the Clarion Students’ Association (or designee).

“We read this and saw no reason to think that canvassing for a political campaign would be included, as the language is clearly about sales or fundraising,” continued Shepard.

“Nevertheless, we took the additional precautions to not ask for donations and to be escorted by a resident of the dorm, out of respect for the University’s policy and to ensure we followed the security protocols of the dorms.

“None of this seemed to satisfy the university, and we are now at an impasse.

“I am reaching out to you in the hopes this situation could be written about in local media, as we feel the policy fundamentally undermines a university’s role as a place where students learn and experience how to be engaged and active citizens, as well as flying in the face of free speech values on campus.”

First to issue a statement of support was a news release on Tuesday from Clarion College Republicans written by Greg Bartholomew, social media director.

Clarion University Republicans

Clarion University Republicans

“Recently, YSDA was featured in the Clarion Call newspaper for canvassing throughout the campus during this election season and were asked to stop by the University,” states the news release.

“Due to the current solicitation policy that the University has, political groups like the Clarion College Republicans, YSDA, and others are not allowed to do old-fashioned door to door campaigning.

“YSDA looks to this as another approach to connect students to politics and inform them about the important presidential election this year.

“The Clarion College Republicans want to extend a hand of support to the Young Democratic Socialists and petition to allow groups like ours to spread the word and inform students about this important election.

“We join YSDA in asking the University to change the current policy in place and allow on-campus political groups to do to go door to door.

“Like YSDA, the Clarion College Republicans believe in the 1st amendment and also believe this policy violates our rights.

“Join YSDA and Clarion College Republicans are calling on the University to end this ban.”

Next was a statement released on Wednesday by  Kaylar Moser, President of the Clarion University College Democrats.

Clarion University College Democrats

Clarion University College Democrats

“One of the most important parts of political campaigning is connecting directly with voters,” said Mosser. “The university’s current solicitation rules prohibit our political groups on campus from one of the most effective ways of doing this: door knocking. We stand with the Clarion University Young Democratic Socialists of America and the Clarion University College Republicans and believe that the University should allow these groups to connect with these students.” requested a University response on Wednesday by telephone.

University officials offered the following responses on Wednesday:

  • Dr. Susanne Fenske, vice president for Student Affairs:

“Earlier this week, I spoke with the president of YDSA, and we had a great conversation. We discussed – and are planning – a meeting with the entire group to address questions about the applicable university policies. More importantly, it will give my staff and me the opportunity to understand how we can aid YDSA in achieving its goals, not only of reaching the residents who live in our halls but of reaching more students in general. There are many ways in which we facilitate that process for other groups, and we look forward to working with YDSA to do the same.”

“I also reached out to the leadership of the College Democrats and the Young Republicans and offered to engage them in a conversation as well.”

  • Jennifer Graham, director of Residence Life Services:

“This is a safety concern and a privacy concern. The doors they are knocking on are our students’ bedrooms, where they are studying, sleeping, or relaxing. Students trust us to provide housing in a comfortable and secure atmosphere. RSOs are welcome to work with community assistant staff to have hall programs or tabling in the lobbies.”

  • Matt Shaffer, director of Student Engagement and Development:

“The ability for student groups to distribute material and petition across campus is widely accepted under the Community Standards, and RSOs have the ability to table in many venues on campus, including, but not limited to, the Gemmell Student Center, Eagle Commons cafeteria, and Carlson Library.”

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