Students could face disciplinary action following protest against Lockheed Martin

By Victoria Mejicanos and Danna Miramontes, March 19, 2024

Two students, in an act of protest, interrupted a job search workshop hosted by Lockheed Martin Feb. 8. When the meeting was opened to questions, students made a general statement about the genocide in Palestine and questioned Lockheed Martin’s involvement with the student body at Cal Poly Pomona.

The guest speaker representing Lockheed Martin refused to answer the students and the workshop was shut down by the host. The incident was recorded and posted to the Instagram of Students for Justice In Palestine shortly after.

The incident sparked conversation among students at CPP about their rights to free speech and protest. Students for Justice in Palestine CPP who posted the video released a statement in response to the actions taken by the university’s administration.

When the workshop was opened to questions, a student asked, “As a recruiter how do you feel about the fact that you are essentially going to college campuses and you’re grooming these college students to become weapons manufacturers for Lockheed Martin?”

On Feb. 12, the Office of Student Conduct and Integrity sent all five students present in the meeting a notice of conference.

According to Staci Gunner, interim director of the Office of Student Conduct and Integrity, when a complaint is made to the Office of Student Conduct and Integrity, anyone involved in the incident, including witnesses, must be contacted for a fair process.

“We have to meet with each individual student and maybe witnesses and/or reporting parties to make sure that the appropriate people are being charged with alleged violations and going through the conduct process,” said Gunner.

Gunner also explained what happens in these initial conferences.

“In that meeting, we will share with them the incident summary, the rationale for calling them in, the alleged violations to the Student Conduct Code and then we will have conversations with the students,” said Gunner.

Gunner explained that students have an opportunity to explain what occurred and how they are being impacted by what occurred and have any questions they may have answered.

According to Gunner, the conference usually concludes with informing the students if they have or have not violated the student conduct code.

An email obtained by The Poly Post explained to the students that they had allegedly violated several sections of the Student Conduct Code including the following:

(3) Willful, material and substantial disruption or obstruction of a University-related activity, or any on-campus activity.

(4) Participating in an activity that substantially and materially disrupts the normal operations of the University, or infringes on the rights of members of the University community.

(6) Disorderly, lewd, indecent, or obscene behavior at a University related activity, or directed toward a member of the University community.

(16) Violation of any published University policy, rule, regulation or presidential order.

If students were found responsible for violating the student code of conduct, according to the email, consequences included, “Restitution, Loss of Financial Aid, Educational and Remedial Sanctions, Denial of Access to Campus or Persons, Disciplinary Probation, Suspension, and Expulsion.”

Gunner explained that although the email provided this range of sanctions, it does not mean students will face all the consequences listed.

To clarify the legality surrounding student-led protests, Elli Menounou, assistant professor of political science, refers to the court case Healy v. James which protects university students’ right to protest. This case clarifies that students attending universities in the United States are not exempt from receiving First Amendment protections.

“The Supreme Court said that students do not shed their constitutional rights when they’re just walking through the school doors, so they still have free speech rights as long as there is no disruption of the education environment,” said Menounou.

However, this case further clarifies the impositions that universities can place if a university’s administration finds the action disruptive to the educational environment. Menounou explained that public universities can still impose what is referred to as time, place, or manner restrictions.

“If a student, for example, is being disruptive and takes the class from the professor they have kind of the right to control their classroom,” said Menounou. “This does not mean students cannot speak in the classroom; it’s a balancing act.”

CPP has time, place and manner restrictions.  The website states “Members of the university community and members of the public are free to lawfully exercise their constitutional right to freedom of expression on university property,” but there are exceptions such as parking lots and structures, and within 20 feet of university buildings when instruction is occurring.

In an email sent by the Office of Inclusive Excellence ahead of a conversation regarding free speech on campus, specific guidelines were given for the event regarding prohibited items and a note about conduct. The email reads: “Heckling, shouting down, or interrupting the speakers will not be tolerated. Anyone disrupting this event will be asked to leave.”

Gunner explained that although the language in the emails sent to the student involved can sound legal, the conferences and any actions that follow are not legal processes, but educational processes.

Students march in support of Palestine in October. | Victoria Mejicanos

“I can empathize with how a student who doesn’t have an awareness of our office or maybe didn’t go through a process like this in high school doesn’t have an understanding of yes, it can sound legalistic but that’s because we report up into an executive order,” Gunner said.

According to Gunner, California State Executive Order 1098 is what all California State Universities use to guide the student conduct process.

“But it is ultimately an educational conversation, and it is a private conversation between myself or someone on my team and the student. And should they decide to bring an advisor, that’s protected information in their student file.”

Menounou also mentioned “Heckler’s Veto” which refers to when protestors disrupt the speech to the point where the speaker cannot be heard or can’t continue their speech.

However, Menounou explained that the situation changes when the protestors are merely participating in the event.

“You’re censoring them either by making a lot of noise in the room so people in the room cannot hear the speaker or interrupting them to the extent that the speech cannot move forward,” said Menounou. “But a single question in the process of the Q&A, even if it’s a tough question, then that’s not interrupting; it’s part of the event.”

According to an Inside Higher Ed article, student’s facing disciplinary action for protesting is becoming a part of a larger trend. Students across the nation have been facing consequences on their campuses, especially if the protests are in defense of Palestine. Universities have also begun to make changes to their time, place and manner policies.

Students like Raneen Vace, a political science student, who was not involved in the incident, has been actively participating in protests on campus, most recently advocating for a ceasefire on Gaza and Palestinian rights. Vace had much to say about not only CPP’s handling of this incident but of its overall lack of action concerning the safety of the student body.

Vace explained that many students have been facing discriminatory actions from their peers with little to no action taken by the administration. She explained that students who have been wearing items of cultural significance such as a keffiyeh or a hijab have been victims of discriminatory actions.

“There hasn’t been a comfortable and safe response from the university to allow students to come forth with what acts of hate have been happening to them,” said Vace. “Students feel as if, at least for us, we can’t trust the university with what’s going on due to their response.”

According to Cynthia Peters, interim associate director of Media Relations, the environment that CPP facilities should allow students to feel safe to freely exercise their rights to free speech.

“Cal Poly Pomona is committed to maintaining a safe and respectful learning and living community,” Peters said. “The right to protest and free speech are important, but the exercise of those rights must follow the rules of the Student Code of Conduct and be balanced with the rights of others.”

Despite this, Vace felt the students who had to meet with the Office of Student Conduct and Integrity were being targeted by the university and that the university was infringing on their rights to freedom of speech.

“There’s evidence and there’s proof that they weren’t saying anything wrong,” said Vace. “They were just asking questions about Lockheed Martin’s involvement in the crisis of what’s happening in Gaza.”

Lockheed Martin, a partner with both CPP and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, was asked for a comment on the situation but could not be reached in time for publication. Peters elaborated on CPP’s relationship with Lockheed Martin.

“Lockheed Martin has generously donated the time and expertise of its executives to serve as industry advisors, on-campus speakers, advisors for career readiness workshops and recruiters at on-campus job fairs,” Peters said. “The company has also been a donor to the university. Their support has made and continues to make a difference in the lives of students and alumni.”

Despite the university’s statement regarding Lockheed Martin, not all students feel represented by the company or feel safe protesting against it on campus.

“I think free speech is something that we need on campus for any sort of issue going on,” said Vace. “But the most dire issue right now, unfortunately, is what’s happening in Palestine and it’s important that our students feel safe advocating for their own rights and the rights of others.”

Feature image courtesy of Victoria Mejicanos

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