May 8, 2024

Media Contact: Sumeet Bal, Director of Communications, 917.647. 1952,

Civil Rights Law Firm Urges CA College Leaders to Protect Rights of Students, Engage in Dialogue

San Francisco—Public Advocates, a 54-year-old civil rights law firm and advocacy organization that focuses on strengthening community voices—a central pillar of our democracy—is deeply concerned about the punitive actions and police violence that students on college campuses across our state and nation are facing for exercising their rights to free speech and assembly.

We are particularly alarmed by the silencing effect these harmful campus responses will have on student activism, especially from underrepresented and marginalized students who are often compelled to voice opinions that are regarded by those in authority roles as deeply unpopular or controversial. Punitive actions by campus administrators, like ordering police raids on peaceful student encampments, or issuing disciplinary consequences that deny peaceful student protesters the ability to complete coursework, access on-campus housing and other services, or graduate, not only harm students, but create a culture of intimidation.

Higher education institutions must provide safe settings for dialogue and the exchange of diverse opinions, including contentious debate and peaceful protests. As one protester recently proclaimed, “Nuanced conversations require empathy,” and we would add, engagement. Campus administrators have an obligation to meaningfully dialogue with students as critical and equal stakeholders in decision-making rather than respond to them with militarized force. It is unacceptable to ignore, pressure, or penalize students who are well within their constitutional rights to peacefully assemble and express their views. Moreover, it is incumbent on administrators to protect peaceful student protesters from violence and intimidation by outside agitators or others seeking to disrupt the exercise of free speech.

Student protests are a part of our country’s rich democratic history and have been integral to advancing social justice—on and off of college campuses. We call on university leaders to protect students’ First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly. Regardless of opinion, college administrators owe students an opportunity for expression and dialogue.

Nothing in this statement is intended to condone hateful acts of anti-Semitism or Islamophobia, which are regrettably on the rise in many of our communities.


Public Advocates Inc. is a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization that challenges the systemic causes of poverty and racial discrimination by strengthening community voices in public policy and achieving tangible legal victories advancing education, housing, transportation equity, and climate justice.

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt