Constitution Week at Siena College

Siena College is truly a wonderful school with gifted teachers, a strong Franciscan tradition of science learning and fun, a beautiful campus, and a very strong political science program. So I was very surprised that it did not already have a libertarian group on campus. So much so that I started the paperwork necessary to start a YAL chapter back in May of 2014. After a much deserved summer break highlighted by a great YAL National Convention in DC, I jumped into my schooling with a smile and a mission, only to find bureaucratic velvet ropes and an unresponsive student government. 

My paperwork was “lost” by the president of the Political Science club over the summer, so I had to resubmit it with a new vice president and faculty adviser. After jumping through all the official hoops, it still took some verbal Judo to be allowed to table for the College club fair. There were some that wanted us thrown out because we were not recognized by the student senate, but cooler heads and diplomacy prevailed. I pointed out to them that I had already submitted the paperwork last semester and at the beginning of the fall semester.

The tabling at the club fair went well, but we were hampered by our inability to officially have a place on campus for meetings. There is a saying in nautical circles “don’t rock the boat,” usually uttered by those going down with the ship and too afraid to take charge of the helm and steer the boat out of troubled waters. I am notorious for bailing out boats, taking charge and riding waves, And I have a list of Naval awards and certificates (not to mention surf pictures) to prove it. 

I had been very patient in my efforts and paperwork to get approval for a student activist event, and every two or three days there was a new person to get approval from or form that needed to be filled out, or an excuse on why I had to wait to get approval from some committee. Constitution Week was fast approaching, and no other political club on campus was doing anything,

Frustration was building. So with subtle encouragement (and plausible deniability) from other chapter leaders and regional director, I went ahead and held a Free Speech Wall event anyway.

Siena free speech wall

Hearkening to Ayn Rand’s words ‘The question isn’t who is going to let me; its who is going to stop me,” I followed the example of other chapters before me and posted a plywood free speech wall with the text of the First Amendment on it near the center of the campus, where it was impossible to miss but not blocking any traffic. The student and faculty response was very positive and encouraging. I handed out a lot of literature from YAL and FEE, and had 10 new student signatures on my sign up sheet.  Campus security waved as they went by and everything was ‘Pace y bene’ (peaceful and good, a Siena motto).  

The only blowback as of yet was when the head of student services wrote me later that day, saying:

“I would like to meet with you next week to discuss options and assist you with the proper scheduling of an event. Please provide me with availability next week and hold off on any displays today until we meet next week. Thank you.” 

No problem, (too late now anyway). As far as peaceful assemblies and student protests go, a Free Speech Wall is very mild. And while I respect the staff of Siena College and the rule of law, we do have the right to peaceably assemble. There comes a point where you just can not just wait behind the velvet ropes and bureaucratic machinations if you want to help save the world.  

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