Expressive Activities & Grounds and Facility Use

Context for Free Speech

GVSU is a community of scholars. Like most universities, our basic purposes are to advance, to disseminate, and to apply knowledge. An essential condition for achieving these purposes is freedom of expression and communication. Without this freedom, effective sifting and testing of ideas ceases, and teaching and learning are diminished.

Grounds and Facility Use Policy

Grand Valley is a public university, committed to upholding the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects free speech. We welcome freedom of expression and consider the university a "marketplace of ideas.” Many areas of campus represent a public forum for speech and other expressive activities including speeches, demonstrations, protests, and pamphleting. The university has created a Grounds and Facility Use Policy to ensure the university achieves its educational mission, while allowing for the exchange of ideas. The Grounds and Facility Use Policy addresses the use of space on campus, and tells students, registered student organizations, employees, and non-university groups and individuals where, when, and how they can use areas of campus for Expressive Activities. This policy applies to all buildings, grounds, and other spaces owned or controlled by the university.

Policy Summary

General Rules

Expressive Activities for Students and Registered Student Organizations

1. Can organize in areas that don’t block campus buildings or prevent access/exiting to the university, property, parking lot, building, facility, or event (generally a minimum of 25 feet).
2. Must take place at least 50 feet from academic buildings.
3. Must not obstruct traffic (vehicular or pedestrian).
4. Must be lawful.
5. Must not create a clear and present threat to public safety.
6. May take place in locations that have not already been reserved.
7. Must not use amplification devices.
8. Must comply with the university Posting Guidelines.
9. May solicit or accept donations, as long as space is reserved for these purposes.
10. Must take place between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., unless reserved to take place after 5 p.m. The Carillon Tower and the Transformational Link allow activities until 11 p.m.
11. May distribute materials in person.
12. Must clean up any printed materials or fees may be charged.
13. Must not use parking lots, ramps, or garages for expressive activities, and windshield flyers are prohibited.
14. May be assessed a fee if found to have damaged university property
15. For university employees, the Expressive Activity must address a matter of public concern.
16. Must not violate the Michigan Campaign Finance Act.

Other Expressive Activities or Events

Outdoor Spontaneous Activities

  • Allowed, and must follow General Rules.

Indoor Spontaneous Activities

  • Allowed, and must follow General Rules.
  • Most activities should take place in the Kirkhof Center per Event Services reservation protocols.
  • Distribution of written or printed materials is allowed in the Kirkhof Center if reserved.
  • Guest speakers allowed if invited by Registered Student Organization or university office.

Non-GVSU Group/Individual

  • Allowed, and must follow General Rules.
  • Can use the area surrounding the Carillon Tower or the plaza surrounding the Transformational Link free of charge.
  • A reservation takes precedence over a spontaneous activity, and reservations can be made through Event Services.
  • Must stay within 50 feet of each of these landmarks.
  • The Expressive Activity must end by 5 pm, unless specifically reserved to take place after 5 pm.

Downloadable postcard

Downloadable postcard

Download a printable postcard of the policy summary here.

Frequently Asked Questions for Faculty


The FAQs provided below are intended to help create a healthy classroom environment. Please draw on the resources of the Deans’ Offices, the Dean of Students Office, the Division of Inclusion and Equity, the Pew Faculty Teaching and Learning Center, and the Office of the Provost if you have further questions or concerns.

Setting clear expectations for your class and for the ways in which students will respond to one another. Consider letting students know exactly how you will be responding to them during discussion to keep the focus on learning, developing critical thinking skills, and helping students consider multiple points of view. An excellent guide can be found here: Guidelines for Discussing Difficult or Controversial Topics, CRLT, University of Michigan:

It can be challenging in the moment to respond appropriately. Be prepared ahead of time with several potential paths of response. For example, what will you say to encourage students to either explain their thinking further, relate their own perspectives more directly to course content, consider the perspectives of others in the class, or reconsider their statements in relation to the class discussion guidelines? Be open, listen intently, let students know that you hear them, and also be sure to check your own assumptions about a student’s intent.

Additional resources for establishing a healthy learning environment:

Among other things, the First Amendment is a protection of a citizen’s right to speak freely without government censorship or retribution.  Not all speech is constitutionally protected such as that which is defamatory or obscene. There is a high threshold for obscene speech. Offensive speech does not meet that threshold. Speech can be verbal, written or symbolic. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in numerous cases that government can establish reasonable time, place and manner restrictions provided they are viewpoint neutral. Although GVSU is a governmental body and subject to the First Amendment, it has established time, place and manner regulations for use of its grounds and facilities in a policy that can be found here.  Further, the classroom is a limited venue for educational purposes consistent with the course syllabus of record.

Further discussion of this question can be found on the Context for Free Speech page maintained by the GVSU Dean of Students.

Yes, if those issues are pertinent to your course material. Our policies guide us in this: “Classroom discussions of candidates and ballot questions must be related to course content as described in the catalog and course syllabus. A reminder to students to register to vote and to vote is permissible” (PC 10.5).  In addition, as noted in the Academic Freedom policy (BOT 4.2.2), “[faculty members] should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to the scope of the course as outlined in the University catalogue description.” If questions arise from students, you will need to use your judgment as to the extent of the conversation always being aware that there will be students who possesses differing views on current events.

Only when the student is engaging in “disruptive behavior” as described in the GVSU Student Code, Section 5. From the Student Code:  “In the event a faculty member believes a student is engaging in disruptive behavior, the faculty member may ask the student to leave the class immediately.  If the student refuses to leave, the faculty member should call the Department of Public Safety promptly to request assistance.”  Please remember that we focus not on speech (which is protected) but on behavior, which if disruptive should not be tolerated.  See this section of the Student Code for more information.

First, know that this situation is not likely to be resolved cleanly and fully in the moment, and that there are many resources available to you on campus after class that day to help you determine how best to follow up with your students:  Division of Inclusion and Equity, the Dean of Students office, the Pew FTLC, or your unit head and Dean’s Office, for example. Students who find themselves on the receiving end of such speech will need to know you support them, and they may wish to follow up with you and others after this event.

Second, much of how this situation is handled depends upon the environment and expectations you’ve established with your students from the start of the term. Early and often, you should deliver the message to your students that free speech is always protected, but bigotry, hate, and intolerance have no place in the classroom setting. If a student expresses insults that are racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, or otherwise hateful at or about groups of people or espouses an ideology founded on an intolerant ideology -- whether these are the result of “clumsy” language or unexamined assumptions that represent a learning moment for all, or an aggressive argument meant to silence others -- all eyes will be on you in that moment. Saying nothing, or treading too lightly could be viewed as being complicit in such an ideology.

So, how do you respond? If it is a case of clumsy use of language, try to recraft the comment or question with a “so you’re saying that some people might hold a view … how as a society should we respond?” As best you can, use the occasion as a teachable moment.

For more suggestions regarding how to handle difficult conversations in the classroom, see the following resource: “Facilitating Challenging Discussions in Effective Ways.”

If you have concerns that a student’s continued behavior is causing interference and disruption to the classroom learning environment, you are encouraged to follow up with your unit head and/or reach out to Assistant Dean of Students Aaron Haight in the Dean of Students office if you need assistance in assessing the situation further.

This is another situation that is not easily resolvable. The reality of free speech on campus is that it often means people suffer hurt or injustice and need support for that. (See question 2 above regarding free speech).

If students come to you with such a complaint, offer an empathic response that lets the students know that you hear their concerns. Depending on the students’ concerns, you may want to help them find resources on campus that can assist them in determining next steps. At any time, you should feel free to reach out to the Division of Inclusion and Equity, the Dean of Students office, the Pew FTLC, or your dean’s office or unit head for assistance in managing this difficult situation.

You have to make it clear to the students that their attending the protest will be counted as an absence and ask them to assess their priority. (You should have a clearly defined attendance policy in place prior to any event occurring as just part of good practice.)  If the protest involves all students in the class and the topic is relevant to the course material, there could be some justification to use that as a teaching activity. If so, you will need to incorporate the activity with follow up. You cannot merely have the class attend. And be aware that not all students will want to attend, though they may not voice that opinion. Realize too that cancelling class or asking everyone to attend will set a precedent such that when differing views present themselves as a protest you will be held to the same standard. Students should never feel they are being compelled to attend or that their grade is in jeopardy.

Your first obligation is to your students. You can possibly have the class attend if the political demonstration is relevant to the course material and is being used as a teaching activity. You will need to incorporate the activity with follow up. And be aware that not all students will want to attend, though they may not voice that opinion. Realize too that cancelling class or asking everyone to attend will set a precedent such that when differing views present themselves as a protest you will be held to the same standard. Students should never feel they are being compelled to attend or that their grade is in jeopardy. You should err on the side of caution with this situation.

Please see the Grounds and Facility Use Policy or Campus Expressive Activities summary (above) for detailed information regarding who can use the campus, and associated regulations.

Students do not have the right to record classroom lectures and discussions without securing prior permission from you, but do have the right to take written notes (or typed notes on a computing device). There may be some cases where students with documented learning or physical disabilities need such electronic assistance; in these cases, the student would have documentation from Disability Support Resources (DSR), be in touch with you well ahead of time to arrange appropriate accommodations, and have signed an agreement with DSR not to share the recordings. DSR has included other information about such requests in their FAQ for faculty and staff.

Faculty members are encouraged to use their syllabi to spell out GVSU policy and to indicate whether or not you are giving permission for electronic recording. Past history suggests that Grand Valley students tend to ask before recording lectures. If you are faced with such a request, you can decide what is best for you and your class. You may want to consider what will happen with recordings once they’re made, and whether additional policies or practices are appropriate – such as requesting that the student turn off the recording device during sensitive classroom discussions or if other students express concerns with being recorded.

As indicated in section 3.03 of the Faculty Handbook, students should be given a course syllabus for each course. The creation of a syllabus is a requirement of faculty by the university, so the university has the right to share this document with others. For instance, syllabi shall be released to those who file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The minimum requirements for a GVSU syllabus are described in a policy in the Faculty Handbook . However, instructional content beyond the minimal requirements can be placed in separate documents for which faculty maintain control. For this additional content, as well as course materials like exams, faculty members do need to share these documents when requested. The best thing to do if you get a request for your syllabus is to forward it to the contact listed at; that office can manage any FOIA requests.

Students have the right to engage in “Expressive Activities” provided they follow the Grounds and Facilities Use policy. If you are an advisor for an Registered Student Organization (RSO), it is important to review the expectations and responsibilities of the role. For this particularly scenario, please let the Dean of Students or the Division of Inclusion & Equity know about the upcoming Expressive Activities – this will help the University to better prepare and anticipate how to address safety and security concerns. The goal of the university is to carry out its mission, which includes providing a learning, living and working environment that is rich and vibrant and as safe as reasonably possible.

Yes, just as any private citizen may exercise their right to free speech. However, take care not to imply that your view is the university’s. As described in the university’s Political Activity Policy, “as private citizens, [faculty and staff] may elect to lend their names to support one or more candidates for office or in support of or opposition to a ballot question. However, care must be exercised to assure that the faculty or staff member does not use their University title in relation to such advocacy."

In addition, this question is addressed in part of the university’s Academic Freedom policy: “University faculty members are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As persons of learning and as educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times act in a professional and responsible manner, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not institutional spokespersons.”

Finally, faculty member cannot use University resources in support of a campaign, such as by printing flyers. (More details are below in #14.) Keep in mind that any e-mail associated with your account can be requested by news organizations and others via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The response to #13 above applies to this question, too. In addition, the Michigan Campaign Finance Act prohibits the use of public funds and resources for ballot initiatives, ballot questions, and political campaigns. While an employee may reference that they work at the University and in what role, they may not otherwise use the name, reputation or registered trademarks of Grand Valley State University to support them in their campaign.

And, as mentioned above, candidates for political office may not use university resources to support their campaigns. As described in PC 10.5 those university resources include, but are not limited to:

  1. University funds or money administered through a University budget;
  2. University facilities including office space or meeting rooms (except speech in open forum areas) or use of University office address;
  3. University equipment including office or cellular telephones, computer hardware or software, printers, copiers and facsimile machines;
  4. University-provided email addresses or use of the University email system;
  5. University supplies including stationery, paper, postage, pens, pencils, and other office supplies;
  6. University identifying marks including trademarks, logos, University letterhead, and University titles; and
  7. University time including when the faculty or staff member is working or the use of clerical or student worker time.

GVSU's Context for Free Speech:

Bias Incident Reporting:

Pew Faculty Teaching & Learning Resources in Response to Charlottesville: During national crises, such as the current events in Charlottesville, students and faculty can become emotionally charged, feel mentally drained, and be uncertain about how to respond to opposing viewpoints with humility. The links below provide strategies to help faculty create teachable moments in times of crises and develop respectful rapport despite varied perspectives.

Guidelines to Assist Staff

These guidelines are meant to support staff and faculty in management of conversations with students related to campus political activity and demonstrations. In some situations, staff may walk a very fine line between personal views and our responsibility to our students. Below is a list of things to keep in mind:

  • You are a representative of the University first when interacting with students.
  • When expressive activities, including demonstrations or other potential disruptive campus activities, are known, information should be reported to your supervisor immediately, who should report to the Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students and the Vice President for Inclusion and Equity.
  • Challenge your students and ask questions: If you advocate for students, you also have to challenge them. Employees cannot lose our sense of our responsibility as an educator first. A helpful case study/reading is available at the following link which is accessible via the GVSU library website:
  • If you believe anyone may be in harm’s way, contact GVPD, don’t step in. Call 911.
  • Advocate and support students, but let them make their own decisions.
  • As a public institution, we uphold the tenets of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects free speech. In addition, as a community, we believe a basic condition for achieving a liberal education includes freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas through open communication. This should be done with mutual respect and dignity.
  • We give students freedom to express and must also attend to the campus environment ensuring there is not substantial disruption of the academic mission. 
  • Some employees may be called on, as part of their job responsibilities, to attend planned demonstrations. In these cases, employees' focus is not to pursue student code violations but to serve as relationship-builders and assist in de-escalating situations if needed. Code violations and notifications of code violations will be handled by the Dean of Students, or designee, and GVPD.
  • GVSU employees should always strive to meet our goal of fostering student success. We do this by living our values as a University. We should all guide, support, and challenge our students to be the best Lakers they can be. We are all part of the GVSU community and have a responsibility to our students to remain fair and equitable even in challenging times. This must be done in a viewpoint-neutral manner.
  • Many of the FAQs included above for faculty may be relevant to non-academic employees. You are encouraged to familiarize yourself with this information as well.

Contacts for Questions or Notifications of Expressive Activities

Commitment to Inclusion and Equity

Bias Incident Reporting
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 university is committed to safeguarding individual’s constitutional rights to free speech and assembly and we are also committed to addressing incidents of bias that may negatively affect individuals and/or communities at the university. More information about reporting a bias incident is available at

Harassment or Discrimination Reporting
Any member of the campus community or visitor may file a formal complaint regarding a possible violation of the university's Anti-Harassment Policy with the Office of Affirmative Action in the Division of Inclusion and Equity. Access the Anti-Harassment policy and link to the report form. A complaint must be submitted in writing.


For any additional questions, or assistance with this webpage, please contact the Division of Inclusion and Equity at or 616-331-3296.