File Southern Methodist Universitys Dallas Hall, where the 9/11 memorial traditionally appears. (Photo: Hillsman S. Jackson, File)
Is a 9/11 memorial placed prominently on campus triggering and harmful, or an appropriate and respectful remembrance?
Thats been hotly debated at Southern Methodist University this summer. The university just reversed its decision to relegate a traditional 9/11 memorial and all other student displays to an out-of-the-way spot on campus.
According to Campus Reform, earlier this summer, the campus organization SMU Young Americans For Freedom filed their annual request for the public display of their 9/11 memorial, a part of the national 9/11 Never Forget Project.
In response, SMU officials requested the display appear not, as usual, on Dallas Hall Lawn, but instead at a park the university noted is larger but students argued is located in a less inconspicuous spot.
Critics accused the university of muting free speech.
According the Washington Post, the universitys new policy on student displays stated that, SMU respects the right of all members of the community to avoid messages that are triggering, harmful, or harassing. That wording has now been removed from the SMU website.
Some outlets seized on the situation with critical headlines like 9/11 memorial flags may be too much for some students.
It was disappointing to us when we first discovered the new policy because of SMUs decent track record in protecting free speech, said Grant Wolf, a senior at SMU and president of the SMU Young Americans for Freedom.
According the SMU student newspaper, the Daily Campus, These annual displays have been met with little resistance until several years ago, when a number of students spoke out against Mustangs for Lifes Memorial of Innocents cross display. In that incident, a campus pro-life group displayed more than 2,000 crosses also on the Dallas Hall Lawn, incidentally to memorialize the abortions performed daily in the U.S., sparking vandalism, threats and intense debate.
SMU Young Americans For Freedom published an open letter to the university president about the 9/11 memorial, signed by leaders of clubs from across the political spectrum.
The next day, SMU officials came out with a statement that reversed the sensitive language of the new policy but did not reverse its intentions. Meant to ease the chaos that ensued over freedom of speech, the letter walked the new policy back: That language regarding messages that are triggering or harmful was added earlier in July and had not gone through the appropriate approval process.
A week later, the university president came out with another letter that changes the policy and allows the organization to keep the original display.
I thank the students from across campus who came together in the spirit of mutual respect and civil discourse to achieve this outcome, SMU President R. Gerald Turner said in the statement.
We were very pleased, as a result of our discussions, that they agreed about the importance of free speech and understood our concerns, that they agreed to reinstate free expression on Dallas Hall Lawn, Wolf said. Our organization is on the front lines nationally trying to stand for free speech, so we saw this was an important opportunity for freedom of speech for all students.
Kalina Newman is a Boston University student and a USA TODAY digital producer.
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