Prior to the start of fall classes, the University made annual updates to the Rights and Responsibilities handbook and informed the community of the changes with an Aug. 28 email.

The updates include alterations in the handbook’s language as well as specific policy changes. Among the updates, the University has added clarifying language to give a clearer definition of sexual harassment, which can be found in section 3.2. The new language reads, “Sexual harassment may be sex or gender based and occurs when the behavior is directed at someone because of their actual or perceived sex or gender or the behavior is sexual in nature. Sexual harassment creates a hostile environment when conduct is severe, pervasive or persistent so as to cause a discriminatory effect.” Giving a clear explanation of sexual harassment is important for identifying and addressing it, and this board commends the University for this clarification.

Further, the new Rights and Responsibilities handbook includes some new rules for the Special Examiner’s process, specifically with regards to interviews with parties and witnesses. Section 22 reads, “The sexual history of either party with third parties or the character of either party will not be admissible … [and] Immigration status will not be considered during a Title IX report or adjudication.” This boards applauds this addition and urges the University to use it to support sexual assault survivors and ensure every investigation is fair.

In addition to these changes, the new Rights and Responsibilities handbook includes a restriction regarding protest and disruption of events. Section 7.5 reads, “Brandeis maintains a high tolerance for protest, but disruptions that prevent a planned event from continuing are not permissible.” Under the new policy, students who disrupt an event to the point where it has to be cancelled will receive warnings, and if they persist, they will face undefined “disciplinary consequences.”

Protest has a powerful place on campus, and this board supports students’ free expression of speech and right to protest. However, the distinction drawn here is important; protest to the point of cancelling an event shuts down a crucial exchange of ideas, an unfortunate outcome that this board believes should be avoided. The cancellation of an event also limits protesters’ ability to challenge and disprove concepts they deem harmful. As such, disruption to the point of cancellation should be discouraged, and this board supports the new policy.

However, disruptive protest in and of itself is not bad, as it is often necessary for students to be heard. This board understands the University’s desire to have events run smoothly, but we urge the University to limit restriction of protest to only those actions that would completely cancel an event. Any further limits on protest would be contradictory to Brandeis’ purported commitment to social justice and harmful to students’ expression of speech.

All in all, many of this year’s changes to the Rights and Responsibilities handbook are a step in the right direction, and this board encourages all community members to familiarize themselves with the University’s policies.