As president of the SMU chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas, Brad Julsonnet is on a mission to protect First Amendment rights for students. He and the other members of YCT want SMU students to feel free to express themselves.
To encourage freedom of speech, YCT members will be on the west bridge of the Hughes-Trigg Student Center today between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., handing out fliers to accompany 25 stake signs scattered across campus.
YCT stresses the importance of being able to use symbolic speech to express opinions.
The signs show two images, one of a burning American flag and the other of a burning cross. According to Isaac Shutt, YCT’s ambassador to the university, although this type of speech is unpopular and widely offensive, it is Constitutionally protected and incredibly important.
Andy Hemming, a first-year business and philosophy double major and diversity chair for YCT, supports First Amendment freedoms completely. “Although I may not agree with everything people have to say, you can’t limit their freedom of speech — my freedom of speech might someday be taken,” he said.
According to Julsonnet, the fliers and signs are designed to draw students to YCT’s booth at the student center.
Anyone offended by the signs is encouraged to stop by the booth for in-depth information and examples regarding free speech and its limitations at other universities.
Brainwashing 101, a DVD about liberal bias in higher education, will play on a laptop during the display.
“We want to address the limitation of free speech on campus and to encourage students to have their voices heard,” Julsonnet said, “and in this case we are leaning more toward the conservative voice.”
Coincidentally, today marks the one-year anniversary of YCT’s affirmative action bake sale.
“Free speech protects unpopular voices. Yes, we offended people, but it was within our rights,” Julsonnet said.
The University of Michigan, UCLA and UC-Berkeley conducted bake sales with no consequences. The SMU chapter of YCT was the only chapter to have its bake sale shut down. According to Dee Siscoe, assistant vice president for student affairs, last year’s bake sale was shutdown because it was a “safety concern.”
“Free speech is what a university is all about,” Siscoe said.
“Administrators are finally realizing that the sky will not fall when they allow students to exercise their First Amendment and free-speech rights,” said Greg Lukianoff, director of legal and public advocacy for the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education. “The universities just could not justify their arguments that the ‘affirmative action bake sales’ did not constitute protected political speech.”
According to YCT, it’s important to recognize all aspects of free speech, even the unpopular views.
Celeste Kinney, a senior at SMU who witnessed the bake sale last year, said the young conservatives are “attempting to cause controversy because if they were trying to initiate some type of change they would be at the steps of the Blanton building and not the steps of the student center.”
Even though any registered student organization with proper approval has the right to reserve a table and promote events or ideas, it is possible that this table could be a safety concern again.
SMU’s bylaws regarding harassment were changed this year. Section 3.14a states, “Due to the University’s commitment of Freedom of Speech and expression, harassment is more than insensitivity or conduct that offends or creates an uncomfortable situation for certain members of the community.”
“The SMU bylaws present a model for free speech,” Julsonnett said.
YCT’s display praises SMU for adamantly supporting free speech while condemning other universities for limiting free speech rights.
“[The bylaws] should be a model on all college campuses,” he said. “We feel we should give SMU credit where it’s due.”
Hemming makes sure the organization looks at all sides of an issue.
“Although we have only four African-American members, we strongly encourage minority recruitment and welcome students from all cultures and backgrounds,” he said.
To emphasize diversity, YCT’s display features an example for the University of Texas-Austin where a black man walked onto the UT campus carrying a Confederate flag as a symbol of free speech. He was escorted off campus by UT security.
“We should be able to discuss issues openly to broaden our horizons and expose our differences,” Samara Mele, senior economics major and social chair of YCT said.
Another example featured on the display comes from Emory University in Georgia where the Student Senate revoked $5,000 intended to fund a conservative speaker.
According to FrontPageMagazine.com, “speakers on the left are welcomed while conservatives require strict security measures… This environment – so one-sided that students censor themselves for fear of harassment or retribution – is exactly what parents, donors, and taxpayers do not expect to receive for their education dollars.”
Denver Nicks, president of SMU Democrats, states that they have “no concrete plans to react to YCT’s confrontational protest, but we, as Democrats, certainly understand the importance of educating voters and discussing issues in a dignified way.”
Young Conservatives of Texas meets at 8:30 p.m. Monday in Hughes-Trigg portico C.
Schools: Southern Methodist University