Controversial Event Guidelines

ODUS supports student organizations’ efforts in broadening the intellectual discourse on campus and promoting a free exchange of ideas. We recognize that student groups may wish to advocate for a particular position or invite a speaker who may elicit disagreement from other members of the University community. In ODUS, our role is to support student organizations in this work; to ensure they understand relevant policies articulated in Rights, Rules, Responsibilities and on the ODUS website. ODUS does not seek to endorse a particular event, speaker, or position, but works to operate in a way that is informed by University policy. In some instances, ODUS works with multiple student organizations who are approaching a particular event or program from diametrically opposed views.  In keeping with university values, we encourage open communication and look for opportunities for collaboration. Below are some helpful suggestions in planning an event that may be deemed controversial. As always, ODUS staff stand ready to help in any way we can.

BEFORE THE EVENT

1. Due Diligence

It’s important to exercise due diligence in extending invitations to speak on campus. The easiest step is to conduct internet-based research to see where your speaker has previously visited and if their public writing and remarks aligns with the goals of your group.

2. Solicit Advice

If there are Princeton faculty or staff who are experts in your area of interest, consider asking them for feedback on your proposed program, including a proposed list of speakers. Solicit advice on how to best position your event to promote engaged and responsible dialogue on campus.

3. Consult with Sponsoring Department

Early in your planning process, connect with your sponsoring department (i.e. where your group is registered) and use the staff as a sounding board for your ideas and develop a path of how to move your event planning forward in an efficient and productive way.

4. Co-Sponsorship

Look for opportunities for co-sponsorship with other University groups and organizations. Enlisting others in planning events, particularly those that may be complex in nature, is helpful in creating events that are thoughtful, well-organized, and contribute to intellectual discourse on campus.

5. Differing Viewpoints

If you believe that your event may have the potential to create ideological disagreement or discord with another group on campus, it is advisable to reach out to them in the planning phase of your event to get their thoughts and perspectives. While it’s not required to reach consensus in order to move forward with an event plan, everyone is well-served by establishing open lines of communication and considering the viewpoints of others in our community.

6. Protest and Demonstration 

If you think that your event may garner an on-campus protest, take a look at the policies and protocols delineated on the ODUS website under the heading Protests, Demonstrations, and Peaceful Dissent. ODUS staff can also provide consultation and advice as you develop your ideas.

7. Event Logistics

Be very intentional and clear about the logistical aspects of your program. Nearly everything should be confirmed before you begin publicizing the event. Think about your intended audience; is this event for students-only, the broader University community, or the general public? Note that it is easier to open an audience to other groups rather than restrict the intended audience after the program has been made public. It is also often more complex and occasionally more costly to sponsor a program open to the general public. These are important considerations to discuss with your sponsoring office.

8. Communication Strategy

Once the event is publicly advertised, determine who will receive questions, comments, and concerns from the public. The group should have a clear strategy on how to receive and respond to inquiries, critiques, and/or feedback from the general public.

9. Media Requests

If your group receives inquiries from media outlets, please consider your sponsoring office as a resource. Also, the Office of Communication can assist in appropriately responding to media requests from outside the campus community.

10. Public Safety

Since arrival and departure of invited speakers involve movement throughout campus, it is sometimes required that these particular details be approved in advance by ODUS and Public Safety. When selecting an event location, please consider these aspects of your program proposal.

11. MyPrincetonU Registration Process

The MyPrincetonU Event Registration System is used to efficiently communication important event details to various campus offices and departments. All student organizations are required to register their events through this system, and administrators and support offices will refer to this system throughout an event planning process. Make sure that the MyPrincetonU entry reflects all the important details of your event. Registration should be completed before the event is advertised publicly.

DAY-OF/DURING EVENT

1. Communicate Logistics to all Parties

Make sure the event logistics are clearly understood by all the parties. When possible, communicate logistics in writing so people can reference throughout the event. It is helpful to create a “day-of” schedule listing all event details in a chronological order with a designated point of contact for each task/entry. At the end of the document, there should be a key with all the necessary contact information for event planners and facilitators. This document will help keep things on track and clarify roles and responsibilities for all parties.

2. Site Check

Arrive early to your venue to make sure the room is properly staged for your event. Make sure you check all the audio-visual equipment for your event—if at all possible it is wise to check even the day before so that you have time to address any issues. This will be difficult to do once the venue opens to audience members. Conduct a physical walk through of your event from the location where you will meet the speaker(s), where they will be before and after the event (if appropriate) and how they will depart campus at the conclusion of the event. This information should be determined in advance and listed on the “day-of” schedule and shared with university offices, such as Public Safety, who may need this information.

3. Personnel

Have group members positioned at the stage, at the doors to the venue, and with the speaker(s) at least fifteen minutes before the doors open to your event. These points of entry are the places where questions or concerns would reasonably surface, and it is always helpful to have a representative on hand to answer questions or consult. Make sure everyone on your planning team is connected by cell phone.

4. Opening Remarks and Intention of Program

At the introduction of the event, clarify the intentions of the program; it is important to articulate why the group believes the event contributes to the campus community, and why the speaker(s) has a particular perspective, expertise, or experience that contributes to conversation and consideration on the topic at hand.

5. Clarification of Point of View 

When appropriate, clarify that the views of the speaker are their own, and should not be misconstrued as endorsed by the University nor potentially even the sponsoring organizations. If you need help crafting this introductory language, please be in touch with ODUS for advising and best practices.

6. Event Protocols

Establish clear protocols for the event; remind people that it is an expectation of the University community that all members are given the opportunity to hear the viewpoints of the speaker, even when those viewpoints are controversial or even considered offensive by some members of our community.

7. Question and Answer Period

Be clear in stipulating that there will be an opportunity to ask questions at the end of the program, however, be sure to state the event’s ending time in order to manage audience expectations and keep your program on schedule. It is fine to stipulate that students will receive priority in asking questions. Have an appointed moderator to call on people and direct the question and answer period, as it is difficult to leave this task to the speaker(s). Do your best to give everyone an opportunity to ask questions. You can invite audience members to ask questions rather than to make statements. It’s helpful to instruct people to be mindful of time in order to maximize the number of questions asked and answered. If your speaker(s) is willing to engage in conversation at the conclusion of the event, you can make that offer when you formally conclude the program. If your program is using microphones for the question and answer period, have “mic runners” on hand to facilitate this portion of the program; make sure the mic runners maintain possession of the microphone (rather than passing it to audience members) so you don’t lose control of this part of the program.

8. Event Conclusion

Make sure you have planned for a smooth conclusion of the event. Determine who will walk out of the venue with the speaker(s) and what the route will be to a private room at the University or to a waiting vehicle. Also, make sure to identify group members who will stay behind in the room so that they can answer any lingering questions from audience members. These group members can also ensure that the group’s post-event responsibilities (clean-up, locking facilities, etc.) are completed.

AFTER THE EVENT

1. In the Event of a Serious Incident

If an incident occurs that you believe is serious or requires immediate attention, please notify the Dean on Call who can be reached via Public Safety at 609-258-3333.

2. Follow Up with Campus Partners

Follow up with all involved offices shortly after the event concludes. Let them know how the event went and thank them for their participation. If appropriate, ask them for their feedback regarding the event, particularly if representatives attended.

3. De-Brief

Schedule a de-brief with all student volunteers so that you can get a more comprehensive view of the whole event, even parts you didn’t personally observe, from a wide perspective.

4. Speaker(s) Feedback

Ask the visiting speaker(s) for feedback. Write a thank you note to show appreciation for their time and effort.

5. Record keeping

Save records and correspondence in a shared drive for your group so that the program can be a reference for future student leaders. This archived information should also include photos from the event, particularly those taken by members using in cell phones. This is a helpful record of the event and can be of future use to the sponsoring organization(s).

6. Evaluation of Mission Alignment

Work with fellow group members to chart a path forward; in light of this event are there particular things you want to pursue as a group? How does this event fit into the narrative of what you want to accomplish and contribute to the University committee?

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to ODUS and ask any questions regardless of where you are in the planning process- we are happy to help and are grateful that students commit their time to contribute to a free exchange of ideas on campus.