College students last semester fought for free speech on their college campus and won, defeating draconian censorship rules imposed by university administrators.
One summer morning in 2017, the students of Southern Methodist University awakened to find themselves immersed in a starkly different campus culture than the one in which they had shut their eyes the night before. Seemingly overnight, administrative fiat had overturned the entire Mustang tradition of tolerant and respectful political dialogue.
The new pronouncement was deceivingly simple: student organizations would no longer be allowed to set up displays containing any kind of political commentary on the Dallas Hall lawn. A notification was sent out to all students and faculty explaining that someone might be offended or disturbed ̶ all the usual excuses for suppressing free speech.
Because of this new rule, the SMU Young Americans for Freedom’s annual 9/11 memorial – as if such a thing could be considered “political commentary” – would have to be moved to an obscure corner of campus and left disrespectfully ignored. Thankfully, other student organizations chimed in to support SMU YAF and attracted media attention. Almost as soon as the rule against political displays emerged from the bowels of the school bureaucracy, the shameful decision was overturned, and 3,000 American flags were placed on the lawn for all to see.
Springtime is usually when students begin submitting the constitutions of next year’s organizations for approval, and consequently, it is then that they begin to recognize the political realities they face on campus. When administrative powers begin to dictate the manner in which students associate with one another and express their ideas, campuses cease to be places of intellectual exchange and instead transform into places of intolerable indoctrination.
Despite the obstacles they face, however, freely-speaking students need not despair. As evidenced by the success of the free-speech campaign at SMU, student organizations of every creed have the collective power to band together and protect their interests.
Whenever the forces-that-be at a school attempt to institute policies that stifle or undermine the freedom of speech, students can fervently answer the same way that SMU YAF did: with 3,000 American flags.