Free Expression on Campus
Free expression is one of our fundamental rights, written into the First Amendment to protect our freedom of speech. While the use of freedom of expression can outrage many, it is a vital part of our college system and is protected by our Honor Code. On campus, we have multiple ways to exhibit our freedom of expression, including forming clubs and the free expression boards, even if it makes someone uncomfortable.
On Oct. 18, 2022, pro-life chalk messages appeared on the sidewalk in front of the Science and Math Building (SMB). One drawing depicted a fetus with text stating, “Do I have value yet?” The chalk sparked outrage among students and opened up a conversation about free expression on campus.
According to their Instagram page, a proposed Students for Life club at Meredith wrote the messages. They participated in Student for Life of America’s National Pro-Life Chalk Day, which was meant to “demonstrate that Abortion Is Not Right and that in a Post-Roe America, No Woman Stands Alone.” This is just one example of how free expression has been exhibited on campus.
When reaching out to Dean Gleason about the situation, she stated that “the free expression of perspectives and ideas is essential for our campus and our communities.” She explained that Meredith’s Honor System does say that freedom of expression can lead to disagreements and discrimination that must be handled to uphold the pledge. The Student Handbook states, "While we foster a campus community that values dialogue that is thoughtful and respectful, the College affirms its commitment to prohibiting harassment and discrimination, as defined by the Honor Code, other relevant College policies, and applicable laws."
Dean Gleason does “believe it is possible for different perspectives to be expressed as part of a healthy academic community,” stating that “this [free expression] does not require agreement with others' perspectives, but free expression is essential and should be encouraged.”
For clubs on campus, freedom of expression is primarily demonstrated through creative expression in advertising. The process of creating a club is overseen by both the Student Government Association (SGA) Senate and Student Leadership and Service (SLS). To begin the process of forming a club on campus, Emily Saylor, the Assistant Director of SLS, explained that the first step is for a student to fill out a Proposed Student Organization Form and submit it to SLS. Once it is approved, the organization can start advertising to recruit members through flyers, chalk, and signs. While they advertise, organizations are required to meet with the Senate Chair. If the Senate approves the club, the next step is to create a constitution.
Once that is approved, the club is officially instituted as a developmental organization. After a year has passed, an organization can then become an active organization. To remain active, the organization must have a minimum of two meetings per semester and contribute to the campus through at least one activity or event per semester. To learn more about creating a club, consult the guidelines and procedures found on MyMeredith under “Engage” on the Student Leadership and Service Campus Site.
Another popular way that not only clubs but also individuals can show their ideas is through the free expression boards between Vann Residence Hall and Lux Hall. The self-regulated board is open to anyone with the assumption that these expressions exemplify kindness, do not cover someone's art that is still current, and use exterior latex paint.
When asking Saylor about the free expression boards, they contacted Dr. Rebecca Dunn, who was involved in the creation of the board. The Meredith College Action Network (MCAN), an affinity group started by former Associate Vice President for Enrollment Danny Green, found that students “wanted a highly visible place where many voices could be heard.” They approached Bill Brown, the Director of Events and Community Events, about setting up the boards. There were some initial guidelines posted, which included “be kind, be fair, dispose of paint properly and respect dated material.”
Students have the freedom to express their opinions if they so wish with the condition of it not overstepping the policies stipulated by Meredith’s Honor Code or the guidelines set by SLS. Whether a student creates a club and advertises it or expresses one’s views to the free expression board, there is no shortage of places to express oneself on campus.
By Riley Heeb, Reporter