There’s lots of outrage online about Smith College students barring media from a sit-in yesterday. But digging deeper, it’s clear that this wasn’t a traditional “sit-in” — the event had an announced start and end time, presented no demands, and apparently proceeded with the blessing of the administration.

It was less a sit-in, in other words, than an informal conference or meet-up.

Given that, it’s not clear to me why anyone would think the organizers had an obligation to invite the media. (Whether it was bad PR to turn journalists away is another story.)

This is a real question I’m asking. Not rhetorical, not snarky: What principle says that the organizers of yesterday’s Smith College event had an obligation to allow media to attend, and what’s the nature of that obligation? (I’m assuming that nobody’s arguing they had a legal obligation, since — as the Smith administration pointed out — the college is a private institution.)

My own sense is that it’s generally a bad idea for large-scale student groups to shut media out of conventions where leaders are being chosen and platforms are being adopted. I remember recoiling, years ago, when I first read about SDS barring reporters from their last national convention in 1969, and I still have the same negative reaction today. An SDS convention was a public event of public interest, my gut tells me, and it should have been open to the public.

In other cases, I know that there are legal arguments to be made — some institutions and organizations are covered by open meetings laws which mandate that the public, including press, be allowed to attend certain parts of certain meetings.

But yesterday’s event at Smith wasn’t a business meeting of a charity or a governing board or a student association. It wasn’t a rally in a public space. It wasn’t a demonstration that closed down a street or a bridge. It was a group of students getting together to talk and hang out and connect with each other.

What’s the principle that says that those students had a responsibility to invite the press to join them?