For the past two years on 9/11, an SMU campus group, Young Americans for Freedom, has planted 2,977 American flags in front of Dallas Hall, a busy spot, where people went to pray and pay their respects on 9/11 in 2001. But the Dallas, TX university says student groups won’t be able to have such displays there anymore because it could trigger resentment among Muslim students.
In early July, the Young Americans for Freedom chapter at SMU submitted a use of grounds request for Dallas Hall Lawn, a central location on campus where we have, for 2 years previous, hosted the 9/11 Never Forget Project. The Project consists of placing a memorial of 2,977 American flags in a visually stunning display that represents each of the 2,977 Americans murdered by Al Qaeda terrorists in September 2001.
On July 24, SMU YAF received a notification in response to our request that the University had unilaterally changed its policy on what it calls “Memorial Lawn displays.” The email informed YAF that displays are now forbidden on Dallas Hall Lawn, and would instead be relegated to MoMac Park, a location unquestionably less visible and further removed from students’ everyday activities.
Dallas Hall Lawn is a busy thriving hub of activity, where thousands of students, alumni, visitors, and community members walk by daily. It is surrounded by the major buildings of humanities and political studies, and functions as the central forum of SMU’s campus. MoMac Park does not.
The new policy reads, “While the University respects the rights of students to free speech, the University respects the right of members of the community to avoid messages that are triggering, harmful, or harassing.” This statement and the rationale it offers clearly reveals the University’s fundamental misunderstanding of the First Amendment and the principle of free speech.
SMU does both its students and our nation an unacceptable disservice in preventing the free demonstration and discussion of differing ideas on its central campus lawn.
In such a time where universities across the United States such as UC Berkeley, Cal State Los Angeles, De Paul, UW Madison, Evergreen, Middlebury, and others continue to cave to the demands and violent threats of free speech opponents, SMU has an opportunity to make a bold stand for the First Amendment and embrace vigorous debate, not safe spaces, as the modus operandum on campus – to restore honest intellectual inquiry and the pursuit of truth as the foundation of academia.