Guidance Regarding Free Expression and Peaceable Assembly for Students at Yale

Yale has a deep history of fostering expressive activity. As an academic institution dedicated to free inquiry and the search for truth, the university is committed to free expression. These guidelines summarize university policies, provide relevant information to students, and are intended to promote the exercise of free expression and the safety and security of all members of the university community.

Academic Year 2020-2021

To limit the spread of COVID-19 and promote the health and safety of all community members, students involved in expressive activity in 2020–21 must follow the Yale Community Compact, and any guidance and protocols, including limits to the number of participants, social distancing, face covering, and other behavioral requirements.

Free Expression

Yale is committed to fostering an environment that values the free expression of ideas. In 1975, Yale adopted the Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression at Yale (the Woodward Report ) as providing the standard for university policy. This guidance addresses the university’s freedom of expression policy as applied in a variety of situations. 

All Yale students are generally free to express their views, and free expression may take many forms, including the right to peaceful dissent, protests in peaceable assembly and orderly demonstrations, and the use of signs, banners, and posters. The following are examples of such expression:

  • Signs or boards worn on the body
  • Distribution of leaflets or pamphlets
  • Groups of people peaceably assembling or spectating (provided they do not block access to an event or university function, and the gathering does not involve trespassing). 

The exercise of free expression on campus is subject to three general conditions: 1) access to a university event or facility may not be blocked; 2) a university event, activity, or its regular or essential operations may not be disrupted; and 3) safety may not be compromised. Permission to host events or speakers is subject to specific approval.

When Yale or its members host outside speakers, they are also generally free to express their views, even if unpopular or controversial. Dissenting members of the community may protest and express disagreement, but they may not interfere with a speaker’s ability to speak or attendees’ ability to attend, listen and hear.

The following constitute examples of conduct that disrupts or interferes with university events or operations, blocks access to university facilities, restricts others’ ability to listen or be heard, or creates safety concerns, and is therefore not permitted:

  • Holding up signs in a manner that obstructs the view of those attempting to watch an event or speaker, regardless of the message expressed
  • Speaking from a bullhorn, shouting, or playing amplified music or noise from audio sources in a manner that interferes with speakers’ ability to be heard and of community members to listen, or disrupts or interferes with classes or other university activities
  • Standing up in an assembly in a way that obstructs the view of those attempting to watch an event or speaker and/or blocking the aisles or routes of egress
  • Sitting in or otherwise occupying a building in a way that blocks access or otherwise interferes with university events or operations
  • Trespassing and/or remaining in buildings or other spaces after hours when they are otherwise closed to the Yale community, or in a way that compromises safety
  • Acting in ways that compromise the safety or bodily integrity of oneself or others
  • Engaging in activities that are illegal or are prohibited in School or College regulations or policies

Procedures Regarding Use of Spaces for Free Expression

Please refer to COVID-19 Events & Gatherings for guidance on how to apply for use of a campus space during the pandemic.

Political Campaign Activity

The university encourages students to engage in the political process for the sake of contributing to civic debate and to enhance their education.  However, because federal law prohibits tax-exempt educational institutions from participating in campaigns on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office, the university has issued political campaign activity guidelines to the community. Students wishing to participate in political campaign activity should refer to the published guidelines and related FAQs.