When it comes to curtailing free speech, one university pulls the trigger

There’s a new health warning from Southern Methodist University about the American flag. Apparently, it triggers something with college students.

I wish I was joking about this, but the university has told a student group called Young Americans For Freedom that it would not allow the students to set up its display of 3,000 flags to commemorate the loss of that many lives during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the usual spot. Instead of being placed in the well-known area of the lawn in front of Dallas Hall, it would need to be moved to a park well out of sight of the hall.


A display of flags commemorating 9/11 is under fire at Southern Methodist University. (Photo courtesy Reuters)


According to the Dallas Morning News, Young Americans for Freedom was informed that the display needed to be put elsewhere for fear of the “harmful or triggering” message it could present to students who see it. The organization sees this action as a sign of pacification and an attempt to hamper free speech.

It must be hell traversing the sidewalks at this university with all these fragile students. If one trips and falls or gets bumped, they apparently shatter into a million pieces, leaving debris for others to try and avoid.

Kent Best, a spokesman for SMU, told the Dallas newspaper that the lawn in front of Dallas Hall is used for outdoor classroom space, a study area for students and a variety of university events. I’m curious as to how a one-day display of American flags, the symbol of freedom, would be such an inconvenience for professors wanting to teach in the fresh air. Are there no other study areas on the campus? What gets me is that other university events are allowed to take place in front of Dallas Hall, so the fact that the flag display cannot suggests censorship, plain and simple.

Universities are supposed to be hubs of learning, where ideas are embraced, not kept under wraps for fear of causing strife. For more than two centuries, the American flag has stood as a reminder of free speech, so it’s ironic that it’s a symbol of how free speech is being curtailed.

You can make the argument that the display is not being banned from the campus completely, just being moved, so it’s not curbing free speech. I disagree, as the display has been in the same place since 2010, so people who make it a priority to check out the display have a sense of where it is and where it’s supposed to be. Moving it sends an indication that SMU doesn’t want to use a display as a teaching tool. Why else would officials worry about it “triggering” students—and what does that even mean?

While discouraging commemorations of any kind is not a good idea, SMU really stepped in it by coming down on something involving 9/11. That day is seared into most Americans’ memories. While shaking us out of our complacency and causing sadness because of the senseless loss of life, it also brought us all together and made us realize we could be a united people. With America’s current toxic atmosphere, that day seems very far away, so that makes the Young Americans For Freedom flag display all the more important.

With that dark day occurring 16 years ago, it won’t be long before colleges are filled with students who weren’t even alive to see the horror of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center. They weren’t here to witness that history in the making, so the importance of having such a display is only going to grow in the next few years. SMU should not only avoid discouraging such a display but should go the extra mile to draw attention to it.

If officials are so worried about upsetting students with commemoration of dark days in history, then they should close their doors. The history department must be shaking its collective day. If the university fears reprisal over bringing up 9/11, what happens when professors bring up Vietnam, or World War II even? This decision to move the display was shortsighted and ignorant, and it should be reverse immediately.

SMU should leave the flag display where it is. Trying to tamper with anything involving a symbol of freedom is risky on its own, but doing that when it’s tied to a key point in our country’s history is pure suicide.


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