Expressive Activity at GVSU

At Grand Valley State University, we empower learners in their pursuitsprofessions, and purpose. The university enriches society through excellent teaching, active scholarship, advancement of equity, and public service.

According to Dr. John Ottenhoff, former interim chief operating officer of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB), in the article “In Support of Civil Education” (May, 2019), “Many thoughtful observers are convinced that one of America’s urgent needs today is a continued commitment to the principles of democracy.” In this article, he cites a number of concerning trends which impact the nation and higher education, including “a lack of civic literacy and growing skepticism about democracy as a system and way of life; racism, xenophobia, and other forms of intolerance.”

With these concerns in mind, we in higher education – and particularly here at GVSU - must take to heart our responsibility to educate students for informed and active citizenship. According to Ottenhoff, “we cannot take for granted that democracy will continue to operate and thrive without intentional efforts from each subsequent generation. As leaders of the sector of society that is fundamentally charged with educating citizens, every college and university holds a measure of responsibility for the health of our democracy.”

As we seek to fulfill our mission and our commitment to educating students as citizens, they are sure to be challenged by ideas and experiences that are different from their own, and they will encounter difficult and challenging situations. As we uphold our commitment to the First Amendment and maintain our deep commitment to our values of inclusion and equity, as educators at GVSU, we must seek to equip our students to engage respectfully and productively with a wide variety of ideas and speech.

With all of this in mind, please consider resources below, intended to support students navigate expressive activities on campus.

Tips for engagement with expressive activity you find offensive

Be curious and be challenged!

Learn from those who are different from you and be willing to explore new ideas. Listen first, ask questions and seek to understand other points of view. 

More expression!

If you disagree with expressive activity on campus, respond with more. If a speaker comes to campus who you disagree with or find offensive, you can peacefully respond by organizing an event or hosting a conversation to explore the issue. Engage the campus community respectfully and productively through more dialogue.

Tips for expressive activity at GVSU

If you really want lasting change, THINK FIRST!

Forethought, careful planning , systemic responsibility and civic courage MATTER. There are many ways to make change! Some examples include:

  • Volunteering, philanthropy, advocacy: Make a difference in your community through giving back.
  • Collaborative problem solving: Engage in deliberative dialogue to find solutions to shared problems through campus committees and public boards.
  • Governance: Engage with GVSU Student Senate - participate in General Assembly, run for office, represent the GVSU student body. VOTE!
  • Civil Disobedience: Start or sign a petition, participate in a march or a protest.

A protest is just ONE way to make change.

If you are considering a protest as one way to make change, first ask yourself some important questions. 

  • What is your goal? Will a protest meet those goals? What potential impacts might this action have? Think broadly about impact - on the issue, your ability to address it, the safety of others on campus and beyond, and your own reputation. 
  • Who do we need to talk to first? Are there other ways that we could address this issue in order to solve the problem, instead of protesting?
  • What campus leaders might be helpful in meeting your goals? What partners might you invite? Are there relationships that might be built? Or damaged as a result?


You’ve thought through all of the potential consequences. You’ve exhausted other options. You’ve talked to all of the right people. You have read and understand the GVSU Grounds and Facility Use Policy. You’re ready to take full responsibility for consequences for your actions. If you still choose to protest, see tips below to do so safely.

How to Protest Safely:

GVSU is committed to freedom of expression and respects the non-threatening voicing of opinions and ideas. The University encourages all who engage in protest activity to protest safely. Below are some suggestions for doing so:

  • Thoroughly read and understand the GVSU Grounds and Facility Use Policy before engaging in expressive activity at GVSU.
  • Avoid activity that infringes on the rights of others, such as blocking and preventing the movement or access of others.
  • Follow the lawful instructions of a police officer or public official, such as staying behind barricades, dispersing from an area declared an unlawful assembly, not resisting arrest. It is against the law to disobey a lawful order by a police officer.
  • Leave any area where others are engaging in illegal activities or acts of violence. Your presence may be interpreted as participating in a riot or illegal group action. 
  • Staying overnight in a campus building after hours is prohibited.
  • Refrain from speech that incites others to commit acts of violence such as pushing, kicking or spitting on others, or other unlawful actions.
  • Make informed decisions. If you choose to engage in civil disobedience and get arrested, know the potential consequences. Contact the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution for more information.
  • If you believe your rights have been violated by a police officer or other public official, ask for his/ her/ their name and badge number (if a police officer) and file a complaint after the situation has calmed down or concluded. Formal complaints or charges may be filed with the GVPD. The Student Ombuds office is also available to students for informal complaint resolution. 
  • Know your rights: 
  • Carry a cell phone, photo ID and a small flashlight in a pocket or purse.
  • Wear comfortable shoes with little or no heel. Laces should be double tied to avoid tripping.
  • Avoid wearing clothing and accessories that may prove dangerous, such as long jewelry that can become tangled or pulled.
  • Try to stay outside of a crowd when walking. Go around, rather than through the crowd. 
  • Remember that most demonstrations are peaceful although they can become violent and your appearance can make you a target.  Do not engage groups of people in controversial discussion. 
  • If the crowd or anyone in it taunts or insults you, just move on and don’t engage.
  • Consider wearing a mask to protect yourself and others. 
  • If you anticipate going into a crowd or possibly getting caught up in a crowd, try to bring a “buddy” and don’t go alone.


As a public institution, GVSU cannot limit expressive activity based on content. We may not agree with what is being said or expressed, but given our commitment to free speech, the speaker or group has a constitutional right to freedom of expression, unless the speech threatens violence or is in violation of university policy.

Dean of Students Statement on Context for Expressive Activity

GVSU’s mission is to “empower learners in their pursuits, professions, and purpose.”  One way we do this is by creating conditions for students to become active, global citizens. GVSU is committed to full student voter engagement, as evidenced by President Mantella’s signature on the All In Campus Democracy Challenge’s Presidential Commitment to Full Student Voter Participation.  As Lakers, we have the responsibility to actively engage in our communities and our democracy.  

Because GVSU is a public university, we are obligated and privileged to uphold the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which guarantees the right to freedom of speech at GVSU, without regard for the point of view being expressed. Additionally, lawful and non-disruptive public demonstrations are not restricted based upon content and GVSU’s Grounds and Facility Use Policy supports such activity. We are also deeply committed to the values of inclusion and equity.  The way that we talk to and treat one another at Grand Valley matters - Lakers treat all people with dignity and respect. 

We are in this together – even when we don’t agree. It is our shared responsibility, as members of the Laker community and the human family, to continue to dialogue, ask questions, seek solutions, and look for the best in each other. 

GVSU is committed to safeguarding individual’s constitutional rights to free speech and assembly and, we are also committed to addressing incidents that may negatively affect individuals and/or communities at the university. If anyone in the Grand Valley community feels belittled, disrespected, or isolated based on their identity, there is a mechanism through Campus Climate Concern to report the incident.

When we show respect for each other, we become a stronger community.

Aaron Haight, Ed.D., Associate Vice President for Student Engagement and Dean of Students

Campus Climate Concerns

Grand Valley State University strives to create an inclusive and equitable campus community where people are treated with dignity and respect. If anyone in the Grand Valley community feels belittled, disrespected, or isolated based on their identity, there is a mechanism to report the incident the Campus Climate Concern system. The university is committed to safeguarding individual’s constitutional rights to free speech and assembly and we are also committed to addressing incidents of Campus Climate Concerns that may negatively affect individuals and/or communities at the university. 

Grand Valley facilitates educational dialogue to ensure that individuals understand both their right to free expression within the community and the impact of their expression on individuals and/or the community. Any time an incident is reported, the reporting party will be contacted and informed about support resources available to them at the university. Incidents reported through the Campus Climate Concerns system may violate university policies or the student code. These incidents will be investigated through the proper adjudicating body or bodies.

More information about Campus Climate Concerns

The Grounds and Facility Use Policy includes specific information about expressive activity on campus

University property is primarily dedicated to academic, student life and administrative functions. But it also represents the "marketplace of ideas," and especially for students, many areas of campus represent a public forum for speech and other Expressive Activities.

For students and registered student organizations, certain areas of campus are venues for free expression, including speeches, demonstrations, and the distribution of literature, as provided by this policy. If you have any questions, please contact the Office of Student Life Event Services Team at 331-2350 or at 1110 Kirkhof Center.

GVSU Grounds and Facility Use Policy

Additional Student Resources for Support can be found on the Division of Student Affairs website.

Page last modified August 23, 2023