Young Americans for Liberty raises awareness of campus free speech policies
With one giant beach ball, members of the Young Americans for Liberty, a student organization, said they hoped to bring attention to a major restriction on free speech at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 15, Joseph Shamp, YAL president and Speak Freely advocate, and club members spoke to passing students and faculty about the change they want to make.
“It’s a pretty fun way to celebrate our rights as American citizens,” Shamp said.
The Young Americans have been working with FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), which focuses on maintaining individual rights on college and university campuses in the U.S.
The group has a unique ranking system on their website that gives some of the “biggest and most prestigious” universities and colleges around the country a speech code rating of either red, yellow or green. Red means a school has the most restrictive rules.
According to the website, members of FIRE read through the speech rules at these schools and decide whether the students’ First Amendment rights are being infringed upon. They assign a ranking based on their findings.
UL Lafayette has a red ranking on the website because a clause in their computer and network policy states “nothing rude or offensive” may be displayed.
“We’re talking about restricting someone’s right to say this,” Shamp said. “Rude and offensive means something different to everyone walking around.”
Shamp said YAL members hope to change the wording to something less open, such as putting a restriction on “harassing” posts because that word has a true legal definition.
The group’s inclusion of the giant beach ball allowed passing students interested in this movement to participate directly by writing something or signing its surface to show their support. By 1 p.m., the ball was already covered in messages about politics and social connections. Some messages were even written in foreign languages.
According to Shamp, many civil liberty groups have moved to using this method to exemplify points about freedom of speech.
“It’s a tongue-in-cheek way of getting around the rules,” Shamp added.
Most universities, he explained, have restrictions on very small areas called “free speech zones.” With such small areas, it is difficult to reserve them for entire clubs, but Shamp said the beach ball solves this problem. Because university policies typically restrict structures like tents, according to Shamp, the rules were not applicable to this interactive method.
Shamp said he hopes the rule, with help from Vice President of Student Affairs Patricia Cottonham, will be changed soon.