Free speech wall showcases student expression
Published: Thursday, September 22, 2011
Updated: Monday, October 29, 2012 19:10
“Nazis,” “change” and “slut” aren’t words commonly found together. Yet, that is exactly why the USF chapter of the Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) decided to build a free speech wall, which was unveiled Tuesday morning in front of Cooper Hall.
The free speech wall, which was funded and built by USF YAL members, was an important effort for club members to make their community aware of the power of free speech, said club president Anthony Davis.
“We decided to erect a free speech wall, which allows everyone to come up and write whatever they want to,” said Davis, a senior majoring in political science. “Whether it be political, personal or religious, it doesn’t really matter. It’s just a way for them to express their First Amendment right to freedom of speech. We don’t censor it. We don’t judge it. We just let them exercise their rights.”
Though YAL’s free speech wall is making its debut on campus, Florida State Chair for YAL Byron Longworth said the idea is not exclusive to USF.
“There are over 100 schools doing this nationally right now, and there are about 150 different Young Americans for Liberty chapters across campus(es),” he said.
The wall was set up to coincide with First Amendment week and follows last week’s Constitution Day. Today is the last chance students have to express themselves on the wall before it is dismantled and stored until Davis can repair it for next year.
Davis said the goal behind the wall was to make sure that people are grateful for their own right to free speech, which is often attacked. Davis said the wall has brought the USF community closer together with a mix of appreciation for free speech and shock value.
“So far, we’ve gotten a lot of people who just feel like they need to speak their minds, and so far, it’s worked out pretty well,” he said.
The free speech wall has an eclectic array of messages. Some stopped by to write crude sentiments simply because they could. Others viewed the wall as an opportunity to make a statement for those who cannot.
Mohamad Alshaar, a freshman majoring in biomedical sciences, wrote, “The people want to bring down the order” in Arabic along the bottom of one of the wall’s panels to speak out for those who can’t in his home country of Syria.
“That’s what people are chanting, talking about the dictatorship,” he said. “Children have their hands cut off for writing that down.”
Though the wall was also littered with foul-mouthed slang and explicit drawings, mass communications law professor Kenneth Killebrew said there’s a place in free society for even the most explicit of language.
“I do not like the Patriot Act, (and) I also do not like those who would control speech through the use of so-called politically correct speech,” he said. “Everyone has the right to express their ideas. We must take the bad with the good in order for the best to rise to the top, and only through speech can we accomplish this.”
Members of YAL, who seek “to recruit, train, educate and mobilize students on the ideals of liberty and the Constitution,” according to its website, have stood in front of the wall encouraging students to leave their thoughts with markers and pens.
Along with bringing attention and awareness to the right to free speech, Davis said he hopes more students join the group and get involved. According to the organization’s Blackboard page, YAL exceeded the 100-member mark since the wall was erected.
With the primary elections approaching in January, Davis said he wants people to gather and “support real change.” While noting that young people played a large role in the 2008 election, he said the group intends to use information and different forms of activism as a means to increase involvement.
“We want to give (students) a better idea of how to shape their own political identity,” Davis said. “We welcome everybody, regardless of their political affiliation or their beliefs.”