Our decision to sue our school: YAL at Dixie State University

I’ve learned more in my time as a chapter president of Young Americans for Liberty about politics and leadership than I learned in my entire course of study as a political science major.

Because of my work with YAL, I’ve met Ron Paul, I was connected with an internship at the Institute for Humane Studies where I was paid to explore and help others explore the ideas I love, and I’ve been connected with people from all over the country who share my beliefs and determination for liberty. It has challenged me intellectually, and helped me develop myself into a better leader, student, and person.

Needless to say, when I had the opportunity and good fortune to be able to start a YAL chapter at Dixie State University I was honored and extremely happy to bring all the opportunities that YAL has given me to a new campus and the students there. To give a little background, we formed YAL at Dixie fall semester of 2014. We met all the objective criteria for forming a club on Dixie State University’s campus by around a week before the semester started.

Despite this, it took the school a month from the time we presented our chapter to the school (about the second week of school was the first available time to do so) to fully review our club and approve our operation on campus. Knowing the long delay had cost us a lot in terms of student interest and engagement, we attempted to hit the new semester hard with as many events as quickly as possible. And that’s where the real trouble began.

No More Che Day Flier

The first event we attempted was a “No More Che Day”. I designed these fliers to advertise for the “No More Che Day” and our weekly meetings. When I went to get them approved, they were all denied due to Dixie State’s ban on posting any materials that are derogatory or disparaging of any individual or group. I was extremely taken back by the denial of the posters.

I wasn’t shown a copy of the posting policy until after the posters were denied, and I had never expected that exercising my First Amendment rights in criticizing the President, a former President, and an internally recognized war criminal and mass murderer would be unacceptable to the University. Obviously with the denial of any advertising for the “No More Che Day”, the event flopped and failed to achieve our goal of letting the student body know we were finally approved by the administration and getting things done on campus. 

Angry Obama

Somewhat ironically, the next event we had planned was a free-speech wall. In getting the free-speech wall approved (just under a month before the event as per DSU’s policy), I was unexpectedly met with a plethora of questions concerning the nature of the event, how we would be drawing people out of the crowd to the wall, and what type of comments students would be writing on the wall. I was very surprised by the amount of questioning. I was under the impression that a free-speech wall would be completely non-controversial.

After all, this is the United States. Every person in this nation is told from kindergarten about how great our country is because of free-speech and how fundamental and indispensable of a right free-speech is to our republic. Without saying anything to me, the administrator in charge of approving the date for the event wrote “Free Speech Zone” on the top of the event approval form. When I went to get the location for the event approved from another administrator, I was asked what the designation “Free Speech Zone” meant. I said I didn’t know.

The administrator called around to outside offices for a while, and I was then told that we would have to hold the event on a small patio outside of a building with no classes in it. Not only was the event location changed to an out of the way patio against our expressed wishes, but during the event campus security showed up.

I had specifically declined to have a security officer present during the event approval process, because it’s not hard to figure out that students aren’t going to feel encouraged to speak their mind with a police officer breathing down their neck. The officer stayed for about a half hour, scrutinizing the wall and the materials we were giving away at our table.

While the officer was scrutinizing the wall, a student asked him if he was looking for hate speech to which the officer responded affirmatively. During the officers stay at the wall, we received even less student participation than before. The officer even commented that he thought he must be scaring everyone away. I spent over seventy dollars of my own money on the wall and several days of my time building and setting up the free-speech wall.

At the end of the day, we had ten sign ups. That’s about a third of what I was expecting and experience has led me to believe I could very reasonably expect to have gotten from the event. Those are the events which led us to contact the FIRE and to sue Dixie State University, but they are not the reasons. Whether you walk into a science, math, philosophy, or history course, you will do the exact same thing: hear ideas different from your own.

The Eternal Question

Fundamentally, learning is simply hearing ideas different than the ones you currently hold and evaluating them to determine the truth. By limiting the freedom of speech on campus, Dixie State’s administration is limiting the number of ideas expressed on campus. That limits the number of ideas we hear, the number of concepts we consider, the truths we find, and our entire learning experience.

Dixie State’s actions have attempted to squash the voices and ideas of myself and the other members of YAL at Dixie. In doing so they have de facto barred their students the right to learn what we think, what we believe, and what we stand for. They have barred us from our right to learn from what our fellow students think, what they believe, and what they stand for.

All YAL at Dixie did, was represent a view different from that of the administration, the majority, and the status quo. But instead of being celebrated by our institution of higher learning for our acts of free and open inquiry, we were banned from the discussion. This is not what a university or any institution of learning should have done.

Those with differing views should be welcomed. Those brave enough to stand up for what they believe, even though they’re in the minority, should be celebrated. Campuses are supposed to be a places where one is free to ask questions, express their ideas, and hear the ideas of others. Not enclaves of intolerance for differing opinions, where anyone who disagrees is silenced and threatened with punishments if they don’t agree to that silence.

So we are suing to defend the First Amendment on our campus. Not just to express our opinions and be heard, but to hear others express their opinions. So that free and open inquiry, the fundamental precondition of all learning, will get more than lip service from the administration. And so that our tuition dollars will go towards an education worth having.

Joey Jergins, Forrest Gee and William Jergins

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