Protests launch zone of free speech and visitor policy discussions
After an anti-abortion protest group visited the campus who equated abortion with genocide, the students staged counter-protests to spread their own messages and denounce the groups’ use of graphic content.
A group from the Center of Bioethical Reform installed a large poster in the Free Speech Zone on October 18-19 with its anti-abortion message. The posters compared abortion to genocide with the exploitation of graphic images of aborted fetuses, victims of the Holocaust and Nazi symbolism as well as images of the civil rights movement.
In response to their posting, the students staged a counter-demonstration on both days. The students made posters to disseminate messages of body autonomy as well as the disapproval of the use of graphic imagery by the groups.
While it may appear that the Center for Bioethics Reform should not be able to put up such a display, they may have done so in the free speech area where they are protected by the First Amendment.
The Center has implemented the same display and other graphic representations to promote their anti-abortion beliefs on other college campuses. All colleges have a designated area for free speech.
The day after the two-day period was marked by the desire for change in the way groups like the Center for Bioethics Reform can set up on campus,
Second-year theater major Mack Slack was instrumental in the protests. Slack had a megaphone and led many other protesters to chant their desire for change.
Slack stumbled upon the protests on the morning of October 18, and after seeing the graphic images the group was using, she decided to join the efforts to start the counter-protest.
“I was walking out of the classroom when I saw the offensive images pasted just outside the applied science building,” Slack said. “After having had several conversations with one of the women who were part of the Bioethics Reform Group, I decided to join some of my friends who were already there to protest.”
At the time, Slack said she didn’t know how such a thing could happen and felt she had a responsibility to use her voice to speak out against the footage being broadcast.
“The images were horrific, alarmist and very offensive to BIPOC and the Jewish community,” Slack said. “Honestly, I felt like I was doing what I had to do. Sometimes it is difficult for others to speak up when the world we live in makes them feel like they have no voice. I will absolutely and happily be that voice for myself and for others when they need it. “
Slack chanted among the demonstrators in a megaphone. The song was split into two sections, with Slack asking the protesters, “What do we want? And “When do we want it?” The protesters responded with “Choice” and “Always”.
Another protester, Public Relations Major Scottlynn Ballard, also saw the protest as she left the classroom.
“I got involved in the counter-protests after I left for my environmental science class. I had been able to speak to some of the organizers before the counter-protesters arrived, ”Ballard said. “Dr. Carthell gave us a protest message with a purpose, and I really wanted to dig deeper and understand what would become our central message for it.”
Ballard did not want this problem to last for only the two days when the protesters occupied the space outside the Curris Center, but she wanted to use this event to create long-term change.
In creating the change, Ballard and Slack, along with other protesters, took the issue to the Student government association meeting on Wednesday October 20. Protesters presented an open letter outlining possible solutions for giving students precaution in a group with graphic images.
In the open letter, the protesters highlighted three points that could help mitigate the negative effects of such a situation in the future.
The points are as follows:
- Create an email or SMS alert system for whenever the free speech area is occupied by a protest group and the content description is posted.
- Configure more visual warnings whenever graphic content is displayed in the free speech area.
- If graphical content is displayed, place advisors on hand to help viewers who might be overwhelmed by the content.
Ballard was pleased to see how responsive SGA members were to the concerns of the protesters.
“I am extremely grateful to the President of the SGA, Ian Puckett, for treating the incident as one of the first things to do,” said Ballard. “He opened the discussion to the rest of the meeting and saw that many people were circulating around the same ideas for changes and improvements. what the University could do showed me that our central goal was success.
Along with the protesters, SGA President Ian Puckett denounced the graphic imagery used by the Center of Bioethical Reform.
“I think the word I used on Wednesday was sickening. That’s all I can say about it, ”Puckett said. “I understand what they are trying to say, but I think the way they did it was horrible comparing abortion to genocide, it is not correct, and the argument is wrong.”
Puckett said he viewed groups as just trying to shock and create attention. During the SGA meeting, Puckett offered more light on how these groups are able to occupy spaces on college campuses.
“These groups come to campus, they follow all the proper protocols and procedures with the Office of Student Affairs to come here,” Puckett said. “They do everything legally and of course and this comes from my law professor, Dr Alkhatib, legality is not always synonymous with morality.”
If the campus were to deny entry to a group like this, it could potentially result in a lawsuit against the university.
Since there is no possibility of denying them entry, the idea of moving the area of freedom of expression was considered.
“We could move it elsewhere on campus, but wherever we move it it will have to be in a high traffic area,” Puckett said. “No matter what you do, you will need to have a free speech circle or a free speech zone that will see a large number of students come and their message can be heard.”
Puckett said another important factor is not giving protesters the reaction they want.
“The essence of their car is student body anger, so if you walk right by and I know they can be offensive, I understand it hurts, but if you just ignore them they won’t. not feel like you are winning, but you are winning because they are going to masquerade as fools, ”Puckett said.
Puckett is grateful to the students who organized the counter-protests, made their voices heard and presented solutions to SGA.
“I feel their [the protestors] concerns, and we’re looking at their ideas, ”Puckett said. We’ll see what we can do, what we can’t do, and we’ll be honest about it throughout the process.