Speak up, if you can

If you’re a part of the 39 percent of students who took 30 seconds out of their day to vote in SGA elections on March 1, you probably got tired of having to turn away countless candidates and volunteers passing out campaign literature by telling them you already voted. If you aren’t a part of that 39 percent, you probably got tired of having to lie about it. Regardless of the annoyance, though, passing out campaign flyers is an essential aspect of democracy that involves many more people than would have been involved otherwise. 

Yet, it almost didn’t happen this year. The SGA Elections Board released an initial set of rules before campaign season that forbade the distribution of flyers without a table and a grounds use permit. Because most student government candidates don’t have access to a portable folding table and grounds use permits are next to impossible to obtain, people complained, and the rule was eventually overturned. This small victory, however, only treated a symptom of a much larger disease. It is past time we, as students, asked ourselves and our administration: why do we need grounds use permits at all?

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, consistently gives the University its worst possible rating for free speech. While FIRE’s stances on issues such as hate speech are questionable at best, the University prevents any discussion on what speech should be allowed by censoring everything. The Quad, which is perennially destroyed by tailgating on fall Saturdays, is somehow sacred ground the other six days of the week and during spring semester. 

During the infamous Bama Students For Life protest in 2013, a counter-protest was forcefully disbanded by the police because they did not have a permit to disagree out loud. And even with a permit, students are often harassed for organizing to the point of discouragement. At a recent Southern Poverty Law Center voter registration rally, UAPD demanded to see the grounds use permit and then ordered the event to wrap up even after it was provided. These policies fail to promote an academic environment worthy of any flagship university, let alone one that considers itself the Capstone.

In late planning sessions for the We Are Done protest last semester, students voiced concerns about dealing with the police. The question: “How many of you are willing to be arrested for this?” generated mixed responses. I personally thought it very unlikely that, in the wake of the optics of the Mizzou protest, any students would be arrested for protesting institutionalized racism, and I was fortunately right. The fact that that question was seriously discussed, however, demonstrates the toxic mindset that our university’s free speech policies give students. 

It is antithetical to the idea of a university that open debate, including the dissemination of information in printed form, would be restricted in such a way. A group of 30 students can meet on the Quad for a game of ultimate frisbee, but one student trying to promote a cause involving a piece of paper is violating university policy. These archaic rules are nothing but destructive to the goals of this University, and it’s time we take a stand to end them.

Kyle Campbell is a junior majoring in political science. His column runs biweekly. 

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