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UNT to create free speech area for written expression

UNT to create free speech area for written expression

09/22/2016 Expressive, hand-written posters line Willis Library in the library mall. Senior psychology student Jazmine McGill, with the help of a few friends, organized the event. She decided to ask students to write out their thoughts after several traumatic events, within 48 hours, happened in the black community. “I wanted to do something for the black community at UNT,” McGill said. The silent protest has caught the attention of many passersby on campus. Credit: Hannah Breland

UNT to create free speech area for written expression
October 04
09:22 2016

UNT is taking steps to create a Free Speech Task Force and a permanent on-campus space for written expression after students took part in a silent protest on Willis Library walls last month.

Though UNT does currently have free speech areas on campus, the new space would differ by offering a place for students to express themselves in written form. Right now, campus free speech areas are more suitable for verbal demonstrations, and areas such as the one near the Business Leadership Building allow for amplified sound as well.

The decision to create the new space came after UNT student Jazmine McGill began a silent protest in support of the Black Lives Matter movement on the Willis Library walls on Sept. 21. Students’ posters initiated a campus-wide discussion.

“People expect you to come back to school and to pretend like there’s no cumulative effect of these experiences,” McGill said. “It is one way that we aid in our own dehumanization and I decided that I was done doing that.”

McGill said in a Facebook post on Saturday, Sept. 24, that UNT authorities first contacted her Thursday about the unauthorized demonstration, emphasizing their support for the space, and attempting to find a way to coordinate so it would comply with UNT policy. McGill was open to hearing their proposals, and on Friday she and a friend who helped her organize the protest met with UNT administrators to discuss solutions.

The posters from the walls of Willis were removed before the rain that week, and organizers and administrators compromised: the posters could be moved on to three large boards, which may be displayed around campus this semester.

McGill commended the move on Facebook, calling the efforts from UNT “completely transparent and completely supportive.”

In McGill’s and most students’ cases, the general protocol to plan a protest would be to approach the Dean of Students office with an event idea. The dean would then guide students in planning a protest compliant with UNT policy.

Mcgill, however, decided to begin the protest spontaneously, after an emotional two days filled with more police brutality against African Americans. She had no idea that the protest would soon swell to cover most of the library’s east facing wall, and draw the attention of UNT officials.

“There were people who randomly joined here and stayed here for hours, just took it upon themselves to dialogue with other people,” McGill said. “At times there were groups of 35 to 40 people out here just having serious conversations about race relations.”

While the university does not take a stance on the Black Lives Matter movement, Venegas said Dean of Students Maureen McGuinness immediately saw the silent protest as “another opportunity for free speech on campus,” taking the chance to foster more space for open dialogue.

“It’s a tradition of valuing many viewpoints, and allowing our students, our faculty, our staff, community and campus to express themselves and their thoughts, and also for those same groups be able to engage in constructive dialogue,” UNT spokeswoman Margarita Venegas said.

Tthe Free Speech Task Force is looking for members and aiming to convene at some point this month. It will be led by McGuinness, and will include Jazmine McGill as a member. The task force will identify potential places to create the written free-speech area, as well as plan what it would look like. The designated area may be indoors or outdoors, depending on what the Free Speech Task Force decides. The task force is currently looking for members to volunteer from the UNT student body, faculty and staff.

Venegas emphasized that having designated free speech areas does not mean UNT students may not express their opinions elsewhere on campus; in fact, most of the campus is open for expressive activity. Venegas added that the current spaces are quite “bare-bones” and that a space for written expression would need to consider including writing materials and potentially being located indoors.

Students who would like to volunteer for the Free Speech Task Force can contact the Dean of Students Office at 940-565-2648 or by email at DeanofStudents@unt.edu.

About Author

Sarah Sarder

Sarah Sarder

Sarah Sarder is the Senior News Writer for the North Texas Daily.

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