OPINION: Campus solicitors need to stop pressuring students

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David Mesquita

Illustration

Brandon Sarmiento, Opinion Editor

Many students have felt the pain of walking on CSUN’s campus, minding their own business, only to be interrupted by the pushy inquiries of a clipboard-holding petitioner. Encountering one of these solicitors is as likely as coming across a squirrel during a walk to class, except one group is cute and harmless while the other is a nuisance.

There’s nothing wrong with advocating for a valuable cause and informing the campus community about it. The problem is that some solicitors don’t understand what the word “no” means and what personal space is. Just as they have the right to ask us to listen to their spiel and support their cause, we also have the right to say we’re not interested.

Understandably, it can be difficult to realize that declining is an option if we feel pressured and guilt-tripped into signing a few forms. I have gotten into my fair share of predicaments where I’ve signed a petition without fully understanding what I was supporting, followed by several more papers that I felt would be rude of me to turn down.

I wish I had asked more questions, or at least walked away once I felt like I was being taken advantage of. Yet, all of the blame cannot be placed on a student’s naivete and kindness when campus solicitors should be spreading their message in a non-exploitative way.

Under Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations, non-commercial solicitation is allowed on the grounds of California State University campuses. CSUN’s Policy No. 900-19 on the use of free expression encourages people to exercise their right to free speech at Matador Square, although any outdoor space is allowed. However, there are a few exceptions where free speech is not protected under CSUN’s policies.

Activities expressing free speech cannot interfere with pedestrian traffic or access for persons with disabilities, under Section 6.1.2. Ironically, I saw a solicitor this past week who propped up a tent and table directly in front of the west entrance ramp of the University Library. Maybe I’m making it a big deal, but partially blocking the only accessible entrance ramp seems like a violation of Section 6.1.2.

CSUN also prohibits solicitation at outdoor eating areas, according to Section 6.3.3 of Policy No. 900-19. Despite this, outdoor eating areas are still spaces that students can be bothered in.

Last spring semester, many petitioners scoured CSUN’s campus, often to get various measures onto the ballot for California’s November election. My encounter with one of those petitioners was at the outdoor seating area right next to Shake Smart.

Despite going out of my way to hide from his field of vision, the solicitor proceeded to target my visibly-annoyed self. I guess the chairs by Shake Smart didn’t classify as an outdoor dining area, unless the petitioner simply didn’t care about violating the school’s policies.

Either way, the solicitor asked if I could support a ballot initiative that allocated funds from legalized sports betting to efforts that addressed homelessness. Replying with hesitation, I reiterated to the petitioner that I wasn’t trying to be pressured into signing a stack of papers after being asked to sign only one.

I was fed up with the “wait there’s more” infomercial pitches from these pseudo-salesmen who take advantage of one’s lack of knowledge about their proposed measures.

After the solicitor promised to not give me 20 different forms to sign, I listened to his initiative explanation and gave my signature. Unsurprisingly, the solicitor broke his promise and brought out more papers for me to sign. I said nope.

He persisted in obtaining my signature but eventually gave up, characterized by a face of agitation. After telling me that students usually aren’t as stubborn when asked for signatures, the solicitor condescendingly thanked me for my time and walked away. I wanted to sock this man.

Other students’ experiences with solicitors during this period include reports of being objectified with names meant to grab their attention, such as “honey” and “sweetheart,” as well as an intrusion of personal space by solicitors who follow students until their attention is gained. Another student was concerned with the lack of transparency by solicitors who made claims that didn’t align with the petition’s content.

As easy as it is for one bad apple to spoil the whole bunch, not all solicitors are disrespectful to students. There are still those who understand that rejection means not doubling down on pressuring an individual to sign against their will. At least most solicitors aren’t on a mission of spreading a negative message to anger passersby, like the picket sign-holding campus preachers condemning students for not following certain religious beliefs.

Ultimately, the irritation brought on by the presence of solicitors is not the biggest issue in the world — it’s just an inescapable annoyance that every student will have to face, if they haven’t already. When the time comes, be prepared to listen with intention and make the decision you want to make, instead of blindly making the one they want you to.