FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network’s Student Spotlight recognizes students who are doing outstanding work to promote free speech on their campuses. This month, FIRE is proud to recognize Britney Logan, president of the University of Central Arkansas’ (UCA’s) Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) chapter. To celebrate Constitution Week, Britney’s group held an extremely successful free speech wall event, despite being confined to their school’s 50-foot-wide “free speech zone.” One of the most exciting aspects of this event was the positive response of the students who, after participating, didn’t see the sense in their school’s free speech zone.
Britney attended YAL’s national convention this summer, where she met FIRE staff and learned that UCA was featured as FIRE’s Speech Code of the Month in July for its list of “Offenses Subject to Disciplinary Action” (PDF), which included “annoying” another person as an offense. This unconstitutional policy remains in force, though UCA has promised revisions since FIRE brought national attention to it.
UCA YAL, meanwhile, will continue to fight for free speech on campus, and FIRE stands by ready to assist. UCA YAL members are demonstrating their creativity in combating this red light with their next event: a free speech flash mob. Britney says, “The logic behind it is that the school has reserved a 50-foot radius for free speech, but what if a whole bunch of students wanted to exercise their First Amendment rights at once? There’d be no room!”
FIRE asked Britney to share her experience promoting free speech on campus, and she offers great advice for any students holding a free speech wall on campus.
FIRE: Why did you decide to have a free speech wall event on campus?
BRITNEY: For Constitution Week this year, we began with a free speech wall to draw attention to UCA’s restrictive free speech policies. Much of their vague language was removed the week before, thanks to FIRE. We attended the YAL National Conference this summer and got the opportunity to talk directly with FIRE representatives about our school’s policies, which banned students from being “annoying” and “offensive, etc.” While that language was removed, the free speech zone is still intact. We wanted to show students that speaking out and being active accomplishes goals such as these and to inspire them to help us continue working to make the entire campus receptive of free speech.
FIRE: Can you tell our readers what a free speech wall is?
BRITNEY: One side of the wall was “open topic,” to where people could write anything they wanted. The other side posed two questions: What do you think about US intervention in Syria? What do you think about UCA’s free speech zone?
FIRE: What was the feedback you received from fellow students participating in your free speech wall?
BRITNEY: We documented students’ (very inspirational!) responses here: http://youtu.be/MCEBItKYRWw
FIRE: What advice would you give to students at other schools holding free speech wall events?
BRITNEY: Free speech walls are one of the best means to recruit on campus because everyone likes speaking their mind—and everyone likes a group that promotes them speaking their mind. One of the cool things is that there is so much room for creativity when doing a free speech wall. We built ours out of wood and “white board” type materials that we got from Home Depot; our free speech zone is outdoors so it had to be free-standing. In fact, even in the free speech zone, it’s against the policy to have a “structure” built, so we made it to where the wall was “removable” (to where we could lift the poles up out of the “feet” and hold it) in case they tried to tell us it counted as a structure. Fortunately, we have a bunch of handy YAL members (and parents) who were able to accomplish this (I mean, I do good to put a bookcase together—with instructions). Also, thanks to YAL donors an otherwise expensive project was totally covered with generous grants! But! One of the cool things about a free speech wall is that you can be creative! You don’t need to build a gigantic wall to get the point across. You can use anything from a gigantic piece of paper and magic markers to a white board in a classroom to index cards/typing paper that you can piece together like a puzzle—anything!
To promote it, social media and flyers are the way to go. Make an event page and invite everyone in your school’s network and encourage your other members to do the same. Make a graphic to share on Facebook and Twitter because most people are drawn to images rather than blocks of text. Pass out and hang up flyers. A tip about passing out flyers: Don’t ask people if they want it. They’ll say no, even if they don’t know what it’s about. Hand it to them and their instinct is to take it, then strike up a conversation. Even if they’re in a hurry and can’t talk, they still have your flyer!
Another good thing to do is introduce yourself to your school’s newspaper staff. Think of it as a mutually beneficial exchange: They want stories and you want free advertisement. Before your event, give them all the details about it (with plenty of notice, of course); invite them to your event because you want them not only to advertise your event but to also do a follow-up—which is more free media. Build a relationship with them and soon they know they can come to you and get a story; hey, they might even join your chapter!
FIRE: What has UCA YAL been doing to change the state of free speech at UCA?
BRITNEY: As I mentioned before, we spoke with FIRE over the summer and were able to work with them to get a lot of the vague anti-free speech language out of the handbook. We’ve held multiple free speech wall events and are currently in the process of getting members to bring this issue up to our student government. We’ve also spoken directly with UCA’s president about the free speech zone and he seemed receptive of our ideas.
FIRE: What future projects is your chapter working on this year?
BRITNEY: We are also not finished with the issue of free speech, as our main goal is to get rid of the free speech zone, so right now we are working with multiple other clubs to do a “free speech flash mob.” The logic behind it is that the school has reserved a 50-foot radius for free speech, but what if a whole bunch of students wanted to exercise their First Amendment rights at once? There’d be no room!
Thanks, Britney, for a great interview and for your admirable efforts at UCA!
Are you interested in holding a free speech wall or other free speech event? Have you held a successful event and want to share? Want to nominate yourself or someone you know for Student Spotlight? Email me at email@example.com!