Opinions on short-lived ‘free-speech wall’ evenly split

A free-speech wall at Loras that was taken down during the first week of November has sparked discussions in classrooms and in meetings among students over the past month.

Photo contributed. The wall in the Alumni Campus Center during the first few days of its run on campus. The wall was taken down the same week after complaints from the community.

Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), a libertarian group, put up the wall in early November to encourage discussion among students. The group wanted to provide an outlet for students to express their opinions in an open environment by creating a public wall. They were inspired to create the wall because of the protests by kneeling during the national anthem in the NFL. Once the group received approval, the “I Stand For…” wall was posted in the hallway of the Alumni Campus Center.

“The first few days were really sweet; there were a lot of positive comments on it,” said YAL president Patricia Patnode. “I saw some comments saying that people stood for love and for their friends, and that was part of the intention behind it.”

A few days after the wall was put up, Patnode received an e-mail saying the wall had to be taken down. Complaints had come from several people in the Loras community, saying that the comments wall on the wall offended many people in the community, including a few members of the administration.

“Within two minutes of receiving the e-mail, the wall was taken down, since Loras is a private institution,” Patnode said. “From there, we felt it was necessary to have a discussion about the role of the wall in the community.”

After the wall was removed, YAL hosted an open meeting to discuss the role of free speech on college campuses and listen to students share their comments on the wall. During the meeting, YAL members answered questions about free speech and its limitations.

“We all came to an agreement that free speech is good, which is what we wanted,” Patnode said. “Everyone let everyone else speak and share their opinion.” Patnode added that even though some students didn’t like the wall, they appreciated the opportunity to dialogue.

“I thought we facilitated discussion very well at the meeting,” YAL events chair Matthew Anderson said. “There weren’t any arguments or confrontations … we tried to keep the conversation to productive dialogue.”

To gauge the opinions of people who were unable to attend the meeting, a survey was conducted of Loras students, faculty and staff. In total, 182 responses were recorded. Reactions were evenly split between those who viewed the wall as positive or negative, with 28 percent on each side, while 44 percent said they had a neutral reaction to the wall.

“I thought it was great that people were able to express their thoughts, whatever they may be,” one responder said. “That’s why it’s called a free-speech wall.” A number of other students were in agreement, saying the wall is something Loras should have.

“It made me feel welcomed,” one person commented. “The wall and the comments exhibited the diversity on this campus. It was assuring to see the differences.”

While many people liked the wall, a number of people were opposed to it. Many responders thought the wall was inappropriate and poorly executed.

“There was a lot of hate written on that wall, and it shocked me that this wall was allowed in the first place. A lot of the statements made didn’t reflect what Loras College stands for,” one person said. “It was embarrassing and saddening that it stayed up for as long as it did.” Other respondents said they felt the wall was offensive, that it gave a negative view of Loras students and didn’t put the college in a positive light for potential students.

Patnode and the other members of YAL felt the wall served its purpose, which was to bring different opinions to light, even if that meant not everyone was in agreement. However, she believes the wall could have been better executed.

“If we have the chance to re-do the wall, we will post guidelines for people to follow,” she said. “I think that would give students a clearer idea of what the wall’s purpose is.” A few students who were confused about the wall agreed, saying the wall didn’t entirely fulfill its purpose.

“I think it was a good idea, but people crossing out other people’s opinions missed the entire point of the wall,” a responder commented. “Unfortunately, some people used it for the wrong reasons.”

“I struggle with the fact that we are all college students and adults, yet we still write cuss words and such on a wall. I understand it was free speech, but it was still immature,” another responder said.

Patnode wants to have more events that promote dialogue, and looks to address comments that were made about the wall. She hopes YAL continues to promote change and discussion, as per its mission statement. But she has one request for students who are willing to engage in dialogue.

“Send us your ideas and opinions,” Patnode said. “Having educated discussions about the free-speech wall is what Loras needs.”

*Note: The survey conducted by The Lorian was anonymous in order to respect the confidentiality of the respondents.

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