Guidance Regarding Free Expression for Students at Yale

Yale University

August 23, 2016


I.     Yale’s Commitment to Free Speech

Yale is committed to fostering an environment that values the free expression of ideas. In 1975, Yale adopted a statement from the Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression at Yale (the Woodward Report) as official university policy. Some schools and the College specifically reference the Woodward Report in their Bulletins or student handbooks or regulations, but regardless of whether a school references it, the Woodward Report is the standard for the university. 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 quietly 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, and to approval as to schedule and location: 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.

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

II.     Procedures Regarding Use of Spaces for Free Expression

A number of outdoor and other spaces on campus can be available for assembly and other forms of free expression. In order to provide for the coordinated use of these spaces, permission to reserve the spaces is required in advance. Those spaces, and the offices and entities to contact to request permission to use the spaces, are listed below:

Central Campus

Cross Campus
Hewett Quadrangle
Contact: President's Office

Old Campus
Library walk, between JE and Branford Colleges
Crescent between Morse and Stiles, facing Payne Whitney Gymnasium
Swing Space courtyard
Grassy area on Tower Parkway outside the Swing Space
SSS courtyard
Becton courtyard
Contact: Yale College

Graduate and Professional Schools

Courtyards, lawns, or other spaces in the schools
Contact: Dean's Office of the respective schools

Residential Colleges

Designated spaces including courtyards
Contact: Head of College

City of New Haven

Use of city streets for marches or other activities
Contact: New Haven Chief Administrator's Office

Use of parks, the Green, or other outdoor areas
Contact: New Haven Parks and Recreation


III.     Political Campaign Activity

In light of the election season, 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 or, 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.