In the midst of the stresses of studying for midterm exams, our members took time to stand in the middle of campus, set up a Free Speech Wall, and strike up conversations with passing strangers about the importance of Free Speech.
Being the only student organization with a Free Speech Wall, we got a significant fraction of the traffic to come to our table. People who normally might not notice us seemed to gravitate toward our table from all directions. We filled two pages of new sign-ups within only two days of tabling, and that was without even actively trying to recruit. What we were trying to do was start a conversation, and it worked. We talked to countless people about liberty, mock-campaigned for “Deez Nuts,” and had a blast in the process.
On the Free Speech Wall and in person, we fostered an open dialogue about issues ranging from gun control to abortion to corporate welfare. We gave away dozens of pocket Constitutions and a handful of buttons and other materials. We talked to students, professors, visiting parents; conservatives, socialists, and a neo-Nazi. A grad student finishing her teaching credential shared her thoughts on Common Core. One lady from out of state was intrigued by our display, expressed support, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that YAL is not affiliated with any political party. She said she would look for a chapter in her home state.
Nearly every student we met had no idea of the list’s existence, and they certainly did not know all the common phrases which UCR professors are pressured to avoid using. These supposed “microaggression” phrases include: “America is the land of opportunity,” “There is only one race, the human race,” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.” Even progressive-leaning students agreed that this list is a bit over the top. Many students did not know about UCR’s questionable speech codes, which include restrictions on free assembly and the collection of anonymous reports of “expressions of bias” via a “Campus Climate” web page. Although harassment by the administration over free speech is rare at UCR, parts of UCR’s speech codes include vague wording that leaves room for selective infringement on free speech in cases where the administration may deem the speech harmful.
Two senators from ASUCR are now on board with helping us demand that the administration amend its speech codes to ensure full protection of our First Amendment rights. What remains now is for us to move forward with drafting resolutions and building coalitions of student orgs to fight for the unconditional protection of our Constitutional rights on campus. We are on fire, and we are just getting started.