The Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), a student group at Southern Methodist University (SMU), recently learned administrators moved their annual 9/11 flag display to “avoid messages that are triggering, harmful, or harassing.”
Since 2015, YAF has organized the 9/11 Never Forget Project, placing small flags on the lawn in front of the campus’ iconic Dallas Hall, a centrally located hotspot where students congregate regularly. Now, SMU says it instituted a new memorial lawn display policy and no student groups may use this area.
“The University respects the right of all members of the SMU community to express their opinions,” states the policy in a July 24 email sent to YAF Chairman Grant Wolf, a senior double majoring in finance and music. Wolf received the new policy in response to his grounds request to hold YAF’s annual 9/11 memorial flag display.
The email continued: “The University also respects the right of all members of the community to avoid messages that are triggering, harmful, or harassing. Those rights come with responsibility not to abuse or violate civil and property rights of others, or to interfere in the conduct of University business.”
SMU informed YAF that displays are now forbidden on the Dallas Hall lawn. They defined a memorial lawn display as “any type of visual recognition or commemoration of an event or political or social issue. Examples of items used in the display include, but are not limited to: crosses, flags, etc.”
School officials said they moved YAF’s approved 9/11 event to another location, MoMac Park, which Wolf described as “unquestionably less visible and further removed from students’ everyday activities.” In subsequent remarks made by the university on Tuesday, August 1, they said MoMac Park was “near student housing” and on a larger two acre lot.
Interestingly, in 2015, the university embraced YAF’s 9/11 tribute event, tweeting: “A sea of red, white & blue @SMU in remembrance of 9/11. Thanks to Young Americans for Freedom for the lovely tribute.”
— SMU (@SMU) September 11, 2015
Breitbart Texas spoke to Wolf, who said, “In a time where we see free speech under such assault on college campuses nationwide, we were disappointed that our university seemed to bow to political dissonance to oppose free speech that was going on because it offended them.”
He added, “We think our university has a great opportunity take a stand for freedom of speech and stand against the status quo of what’s going on campuses nationwide.” He had hoped that instead SMU embraced “total freedom of the exchange of ideas.”
This week, YAF spoke to other student groups and, regardless of their political leanings, they joined forces in support of free speech, crafting an open letter to SMU President Gerald Turner. The students called out SMU for deviating from its “mission to be a place where ideas are challenged and intellect thrives, not a place to hide or silence alternative points of view.”
The letter also highlights UC Berkeley, Middlebury and Evergreen College, which “have effectively shut down free speech on their campuses.”
On Tuesday, the university cited changing campus needs relating to the use of Dallas Hall’s lawn behind their decision. They doubled down on the policy: “SMU respects the rights of all campus community members to express their opinions, as well as their right to be free from coercion and harassment.”
Wolf told Breitbart Texas: “The core of our disagreement with the University is over their justification for this policy — that students have a right to avoid harassing, triggering, or harmful messages, and their further statement categorizing ideas or demonstrations as coercive or harassing. As you can see, the policy names crosses or flags as examples of displays.”
SMU also appeared to backpedal on their remarks, commenting: “The policy has been further updated to better reflect this balance and to remove the poor wording regarding triggering or harmful messages.”
Still, the memorial lawn display policy remains in effect.
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