By Ryan Grewal, news staff
A Northeastern student said the university intimidated her into taking down a banner that she hung outside the window of her West Village A North residence that was critical of the university’s handling of campus sexual assaults.
On Monday morning, Mackenzie Coleman, a third-year bioengineering major, put up an approximately six-foot long white sign that read in black, capitalized letters, “Northeastern protects rapists.” Later that afternoon, Coleman said that after facing pressure from the Northeastern University Housing & Residential Life staff throughout the day, she took down the sign around 7 p.m.
“Basically, I was intimidated to take it down,” Coleman said. “I was honestly tired and didn’t want to deal with it anymore, so I took it down.”
Northeastern spokesperson Matthew McDonald said in an email to The News that Coleman was not asked to remove the banner because of its critical nature toward the university, but because she lacked permission to hang a sign.
“The student was asked to remove the sign, regardless of its content, because she had no prior approval,” McDonald said.
Coleman said she hung the banner in response to a recent lawsuit filed by a Northeastern student against the university and several staff members for allegedly mishandling her 2013 sexual assault case.
“I just kind of want to hear an action plan from [the administration],” Coleman said. “How are they going to come back after this article […] and rebuild student trust?”
Coleman said she received a phone call at about 1:30 p.m. on Monday from Samantha Ghika, the residence director (RD) for West Village A, asking to meet with her.
“I went in just to make sure I wasn’t getting in trouble,” Coleman said. “And that started the whole dialogue of them kind of bullying me all day long about this.”
Coleman said that Ghika treated her kindly but told her that she would have to take the sign down.
“I left the meeting and realized I had been too flustered to ask what rule it was I was actually breaking,” Coleman said.
After the meeting, Coleman emailed the residence director asking for further clarification about what specific rule she was violating in the Code of Student Conduct (CSC) by hanging the sign, according to emails obtained by The News.
“My apologies for forgetting to ask this in our meeting earlier, but could I please receive a confirmation of what specific rule(s) I’m in violation of with regard to the banner?” Coleman wrote to Ghika.
According to the emails, Ghika’s response did not address Coleman’s inquiry into which specific agreement she violated.
Instead, the RD thanked Coleman for coming into the meeting and told her she needed to take the banner down by 6 p.m.
In response, Coleman asked Ghika again to specify what rules she had broken.
“I only want to take [the banner] down if I’ll be getting in trouble, and I haven’t been made aware of a specific rule I’m violating,” Coleman wrote. “I would hate to take it down just because the administration doesn’t like it. If I’ll get in trouble for not taking it down, I will remove it.”
Ghika then said she was leaving the office for the day and referred Coleman to Christina Alch, an area coordinator for Housing & Residential Life.
Coleman said Alch called her on the phone at about 5:45 p.m. and allegedly told her she had violated Residential Life policies and failed to comply with Housing & Residential Life staff.
“She gave me all these vague possibilities, like a report might be filed, and it might be a written warning, and it might need disciplinary action and we might need to call the police,” Coleman said. “I was like I don’t feel comfortable taking this down until you tell me [what I did wrong]. And she said it was a violation of residential and housing rules, but I haven’t found that anywhere online.”
Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Alch would not confirm whether she had called Coleman and declined to comment.
The 2016-17 Guide to Residence Hall Living does not specifically ban hanging flags or banners from windows, but it does state that, “failure to cooperate with a staff member […] will not be tolerated and will result in disciplinary action.”
Northeastern does, however, require permission for demonstrations to be held. The guide does not define what constitutes a demonstration.
“No person or organization shall hold, cause or permit to be held a demonstration on university property or in connection with a university event unless all necessary reservations of space and permissions from the Center for Student Involvement have been obtained prior to the demonstration,” according to the 2016-2017 Student Organization Resource Guide.
Other students in residence halls, however, continue to display flags and banners from their windows. As of Wednesday afternoon, a rainbow LGBTQA+ pride flag was hanging outside a seventh floor window in West Village G. There was also a black flag hanging outside the window of a sixth floor apartment of West Village A North, the same residence hall where Coleman hung her banner.
The News reached out to McDonald regarding flags and banners hanging from other residence halls.
“Individuals and organizations must receive approvals to hang signs or banners on Northeastern property,” McDonald said in response.
The residents of the West Village A North apartment who have the black flag, however, told The News that they did not receive university permission.
“We didn’t get it approved,” said Arianna Tang, a third-year computer science major. “No [resident assistant] has come to say anything.”
Freshman data science and economics double major Tanay Patri said she believes that Coleman’s action should be protected as free speech.
“I think there’s a line between protecting free speech and conforming to societal norms,” Patri said. “But this is something that’s brushed aside. I think discomfort is the only way you make change.”
Sophomore game design major Isaac Schutz questioned the basis for the administration allegedly demanding the removal of the banner.
“I didn’t expect them to actually ask [Coleman] to take the banner down,” Schutz said. “I don’t know what gives them the ability to take it down because that goes against free speech.”
Coleman said she’s considering restoring the banner to its place outside.
“I honestly see no reason why I shouldn’t be able to put it back up,” she said.
Photo courtesy Mackenzie Coleman