A private Texas university has united student opinion across the ideological spectrum in opposition to a “restrictive and destructive” policy that bans a September 11 memorial display.
Southern Methodist University rebuffed its Young Americans for Freedom chapter’s request to host a display in a prominent campus location, violating the spirit of free speech, student groups told The College Fix.
The administration claims it is trying to accommodate the speech without disrupting existing college operations. But one allied group believes the new rules on “lawn displays” — motivated by an SMU commitment to avoid “triggering” students — are intended to stop pro-life messages that have proven more controversial.
The coalition of groups will seek relief in the student senate if the university sticks to its position, one leader told The Fix.
Students have the right to ‘avoid messages that are triggering’
Last month Grant Wolf, president of the YAF chapter, requested the use of the Dallas Hall Lawn (below) for a display involving nearly 3,000 American flags to memorialize those killed in the terrorist attacks. YAF’s display has been held on the lawn annually since 2015.
In emails dated July 24 obtained by The Fix, the university rejected the group’s proposed location for the Sept. 10 event but modified it to take place less than a quarter-mile away.
“The University has a new policy regarding Memorial Lawn Displays (see below) so I have changed the location of your request to MoMac Park,” Student Activities Coordinator Lydia Dale wrote in an email.
The new restrictions are intended to strike a balance between “the right of all members of the SMU community to express their opinions” and their right to “avoid messages that are triggering, harmful, or harassing,” according to the lawn display guidelines reprinted in the email.
A cached version of the policy with the “triggering, harmful, or harassing” language is dated July 2017.
The university’s response ruffled diverse student groups on campus.
“If expression is banned from a part of this campus, that is detrimental to the education of the students,” SMU College Democrats Co-President Matthew Lucci told The Fix in a phone call Tuesday.
The College Democrats chapter “is very much in favor of open political discussion,” he said: Last year it joined the College Republicans to urge the student government to pass a version of the so-called Chicago Principles to protect unpopular speech from administrative censorship.
Though the bill failed in the student senate, the effort paved the way for future cooperation among politically divergent groups.