On Friday April 15th between 9.15 and 11.30 am the Emory Grounds department removed two Students and Workers in Solidarity sheet-signs that were hung in Asbury circle in the trees to the right of the Dooley statue. I have attached an image of the signs when they were hung up. The chalking that we had done on the ground right next to the signs stating "support workers rights, kick out Sodexo. Meet on the Quad on April 20th at Noon" had also been scrubbed out.
After following up with Head Grounds Keeper Jimmy Powell, we learned that he was instructed to remove the signs and chalk by Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life John Ford's office. John Ford's office is also the office in charge of overseeing the Sodexo contract.
After being directed to speak with assistant director of administration and marketing Andrea Lentz regarding the policy regarding the hanging of sheet signs, we learned that there is not in fact any policy on this issue. There is no approval process for the hanging of sheet signs from the trees and there is no policy regarding what can and cannot be written on the signs. This fact was confirmed by Jimmy Powell.
Powell stated that that John Ford's office had decided that the message was too political because it directly mentioned Sodexo, that it shouldn't mention President Wagner's name specifically, and that student signs must explicitly reference an event. When asked if there was any policy to substantiate any of these distinctions, he said that there was not, but he claimed that as director of grounds he had the power to take down any sign that he sees fit. Powell said if we didn’t want to have our signs taken down that we should make them in a way that wouldnt have people complaining to him about them, referring to the directions he received from John Ford's office to take them down.
Upon request, Powell returned the signs to us, but said that if we were to put them up again that they would be taken down again. We asked if we were to write the time and date of the event on each specific sign if they would not be removed to which he replied that the message of the signs also needed to be changed to only include the name of the event and its time and not to advocate a political stance on the issue.
We believe that the decision to remove the signs is an act of targeted censorship. The justifications for the removal put forth are not grounded in any university policy and, therefore, we believe them to be nothing more than self-serving excuses for the censorship of campus political speech. Are we really okay with the administration only allowing the use of campus space for messages that they agree with?
Please forward this message widely. We believe everyone in the Emory community should be aware of instances of censorship on campus.
Contact me at email@example.com if you have any further questions regarding the issue.
Make sure to come out to our event on Wednesday the 20th on the Quad at Noon if you find these actions to be disconcerting.
For more information on the issue of Sodexo please see the following: