Syracuse University Students Risk Discipline to Cheer Each Other Up

April 19, 2013

Post-It Notes

Students at Syracuse University have followed in the footsteps of their peers at Rutgers University with a project called SU Stickies. Syracuse student Allie Caren said that she started the project to "spread happiness and a smile" by leaving inspirational messages on Post-It notes around campus. Students have reacted positively, noting that the stickies seem to pop up just when they need to hear encouraging words. And project participants are motivated to use the stickies to create a greater sense of community on campus. 

But it turns out that this uplifting and inspiring expression actually violates Syracuse’s campus posting policy. The policy limits posted items to general-purpose bulletin boards in campus buildings and requires that all items include the poster’s name. Posting in some locations even requires approval from "the appropriate department." 

Syracuse has earned a "red light" rating from FIRE for enacting policies that restrict protected speech, despite its statement that "freedom of discussion is essential to the search for truth." In the past, Syracuse has responded negatively to anonymous speech in particular. 

So will Syracuse enforce its posting policy consistently and without considering the content and viewpoint of the speech? Syracuse has created a dilemma for itself—it can either rain on SU Stickies’ parade and endure the wrath of stressed students and embarrassment about its speech code, or it can set itself up for a selective enforcement charge down the road.  

Then there’s that third option: Revise these policies so that they don’t abridge students’ rights to freely express themselves. Of course, FIRE would be happy to help.

Photo by Giorgio Montersino.