The Western chapter of Young Americans for Liberty handed students pens and offered up 12-foot-by-12-foot beach ball to encourage free speech in Red Square on Thursday, March 3.
Representatives of YAL were handing out copies of the constitution as students took to the circular ball and wrote their own phrase or encouragement. Comments on the ball ranged from “I [heart] Jennifer Aniston” to “Ripping up your neighbor’s garden does not make yours any greener.”
Sophomore Sean Rita, the president of the Western chapter of YAL, said the purpose of the event was to challenge free speech codes at different college campuses around the country. He said the creation of safe spaces, which are specific areas students can practice free speech, are prohibiting the First Amendment right.
“I think Western students take their rights for granted and also don’t realize that there are conservative people at this college,” Rita said. “You don’t even have to be conservative to support the First Amendment right to free speech.”
Rita said their goal for the number of signatures and statements on the ball was around 100, but they ended up surpassing that with between 200 and 300.
Sophomore Jackson Winner, vice president of the Western chapter of YAL said they were glad to hear Western does not have any “free-speech zones” on campus but saw this as a good chance to remind students they have free speech wherever they are.
“With our recent incident with the Yik Yak thing and the student leadership, we thought it would be good to come out here and positively promote free speech,” Winner said. “You can’t threaten people as that guy did, but you do have the right to free speech and to say what you want to say in a constructive manner.”
Winner said any type of writing on the ball was welcomed, whether it be controversial and spark conversation or encourage others to comment.
Sophomore Cameron Hazzard said he was interested to see what was written on the ball, as he had recently seen chalk writing around Western’s campus regarding right-winged ideals.
Hazzard said he feels Western’s climate is generally so left-winged and those who share different views may find it difficult to express their opinions.
Hazzard, who wrote “Take advantage of your democracy! Your social presence does nothing to determine your future! Don’t allow a dying generation to control your future,”said he doesn’t think our generation takes advantage of free speech as it should.
“We’re the electronic generation and so we are constantly on the internet, constantly on Twitter, having a social presence about our opinions,” Hazzard said. “But when it comes down to actually voting for the people we’re representing on social media, we don’t take advantage of our rights to democracy.”
Senior Emily Power, who works in the admissions office as a Student Admissions Representative, wrote “Follow @wwuadmissions,” which is the handle for Western’s new Snapchat. She said she thinks the idea of students writing whatever they want on the ball is a fun way for students to speak their mind.
“There are constantly very welcoming protests on campus, like silent protests, people promoting different political viewpoints, and for the most part I feel like that’s very welcomed,” Power said. “No one is looking down on people for doing that and Western gives a great platform like Red Square to do that in.”
Winner said the YAL plans to bring the ball to future events to continue promoting free speech and will encourage people to write more thoughts on it.