Harvard Kennedy School is committed to open and civil discussion. Listening to and learning from others is fundamental to the educational process and essential to our mission of improving public policy and leadership. To foster an environment of open and civil discussion, the following guidelines frame the expectations for members of the HKS community during events, meetings, and other occasions apart from class sessions when speakers present their views—on the HKS campus or elsewhere at Harvard University. (In class sessions, HKS’s student Code of Conduct regarding respect for all members of the community applies. The guidelines here for occasions apart from class sessions draw heavily on similar guidelines that have been used by Harvard Law School and the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences).

The right to dissent is the complement of the right to speak, but these rights need not occupy the same forum at the same time. A speaker is entitled to communicate her or his message to an audience during the allotted time, and all members of the audience are entitled to hear the message and see the speaker during that time; therefore, dissenters must not substantially interfere with a speaker’s ability to communicate or an audience’s ability to see and hear the speaker. Dissenters are entitled to express their objections in other ways: When an event is closed, dissent by non-attendees is limited to activity outside the event that does not impede access to the event or substantially interfere with communication inside; when an event is open, the acceptable form of dissent depends on whether a dissenter is inside or outside the event and on whether the dissenter is acting before, after, or during the event. Moreover, all speakers at HKS must take open questions from the audience at some point during the allotted time.

Picketing and Distributing Literature

Picketing and protesting in an orderly way or distributing literature outside an event are acceptable unless they impede access to the event or substantially interfere with communication inside the event. In order to facilitate both dissent and access to the event, HKS may designate certain areas in close proximity to an event in which picketing or protest can occur. Distributing literature inside an open event is acceptable before the event is called to order and after the event is adjourned, but not during the speaking portion of the event.

Silent or Symbolic Protest

Displaying a sign, wearing symbolic clothing, gesturing, standing, or otherwise protesting noiselessly inside an event is acceptable unless that protest interferes with an audience’s view or prevents a speaker from effectively conveying their message. Therefore, signs, prolonged standing, and other activity likely to block the view of a speaker should be confined to the back of a room.


Responding vocally to a speaker, spontaneously and temporarily, is generally acceptable. However, chanting or making other sustained or repeated noise in a manner that substantially interferes with the speaker’s communication is not permitted, whether inside or outside an event.

Force or Violence

Using or threatening force or violence—such as assaulting a speaker or a member of an audience, or interfering with the freedom of movement of a speaker or a member of an audience—is never permitted.

Responsibility of an Audience and Host

An audience and a host (including a host organization) must respect the right to dissent. For example, audience members should not attempt to remove signs that are not blocking the view of a speaker or shout down a questioner before a question has reasonably been finished. Anyone who substantially interferes with acceptable dissent is violating these guidelines as much as a dissenter who violates the rights of a speaker or audience.

Questions from Audience

All speakers invited to HKS must agree to take questions from the audience at some point during an event. An event’s host can determine the best format for an event as long as there is a meaningful opportunity for audience questions.

Moderator Role

HKS may determine that open and civil discussion at an event requires the use of a moderator and may designate a moderator in consultation with the host. A moderator will generally be a member of the faculty or administration of HKS or Harvard University. Decisions at the event about how to balance the rights of a speaker with the rights of dissenters will be made by the moderator or other officials designated by HKS or Harvard University. Failure to comply with requests by these moderators or other officials would be a violation of these guidelines.


Any violations of these guidelines by HKS students would represent violations of the student Code of Conduct and Harvard’s University-Wide Statement on Rights and Responsibilities, and the violators would be subject to appropriate disciplinary action. Any violations of the guidelines by staff members, faculty members, speakers, or other audience members would also be grounds for appropriate disciplinary action.