Student Liberation Movement Wall Spurs Free Speech Discussion
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The recent construction of a cardboard wall in the HUB’s spiral staircase stoked the debate over inconsistencies in the treatment of political displays in college spaces. To this claim, Interim President Weissman maintained that “there is not, nor has there been an effort by the college to prevent anyone from expressing their views.”
The dubbed “Wall of Love,” was put up by the Student Liberation Movement (SLM) on Tuesday “in direct response to legislation, restrictions on immigration and hate speech that has surfaced during and after the transition to the new administration of the [U.S.],” according to a letter from SLM posted alongside the cardboard wall. On the display, students wrote all manner of messages like “everyone is welcome here,” “We are a nation of immigrants” and “No barriers, just love please!”
Erik Rivera ’17, a student organizer for SLM, describes the display as an “anti-protest… that’s full of positivity and more so focused on… the aftereffects of this problem… the current [presidential] administration’s views, intentions, agenda, if you will, towards immigrants.”
“It becomes a network of hurt,” says Rivera.
“This is really awesome,” says Brady Hummel ’17, the chief writer for SLM, who sees in the display “Dickinson students standing up for each other, whether you are in the crosshairs of the political momentum of the day or not, this goes beyond what’s happening politically and just saying we support each other.”
“One thing I do like about this,” says Grant Shearer ’19, “it says ‘build love not walls.’ It’s more like a positive thing instead of a ‘f**k Donald Trump’ kind of thing, even though it kind of is.”
Shearer, who is a member of the College Republicans, says that he believes “people should be able to express their opinions,” something he does not believe was afforded to the College Republicans during the 2016 Presidential Election. On Nov. 8, 2016, the club posted printouts of Hillary Clinton’s emails on the interior of the stairwell walls. The flyers were “torn down by students and by some school people,” says Shearer. “It’s just a little one-sided on who’s allowed to express their opinion.”
“If they want to do it, it’s here, it doesn’t bother me,” he amends.
Mitchell Snyder ’19, treasurer of the College Republicans, says, “I support their right to put it up. I think it’s fantastic that students are expressing free speech.” But, he says, “I wish that the faculty and administration would have been supportive when other voices of dissent do the same thing.”
Weissman, who was not involved in the planning of the display, responded to these concerns of differential treatment: “My understanding is that there was a difference in terms of the process by which these were brought forward and posted, and that was the chief issue. I should say I was not involved directly in the email decision, so I really can’t comment on that. But what I would emphasize is that we are open to expressions of opinion from everyone.”
Snyder says that “We had Josh Eisenberg [interim director of Student Leadership and Campus Engagement] come into our club meetings and informed us we would be free to advocate for our candidate free of barriers. He said we should feel free to put up literature, chalk the campus, etc. We have also seen numerous groups use the glass in the same manner such as Devil’s Advocates and other student groups.”
As of Feb. 7 at 11:00 p.m., The Dickinsonian was unable to reach Eisenberg for comment.
“To my knowledge,” said Joyce Bylander, vice president and dean of Student Life, “no one from the administration was involved in the planning of the wall but I was told about it yesterday as students were planning it. I was made aware by another administrator. That person made sure that students engaged with CASE [The Office of Conferences and Special Events] in order to make sure that what they wanted to do was done consistent with college posting and display standards.”
Of the wall itself, Bylander says “I was impressed by [SLM’s] ingenuity.”
Weissman addressed the right to free expression at the beginning of the Student Senate meeting held on Feb. 7 at 6:30 p.m. Referring to a recent Op-Ed that he had written, but had not yet published, and speaking for himself he said that “this is a time that colleges and universities should be a home for critics, and also become critics themselves.”
Of the emails posted by the College Republicans, Bylander says “They do not appear to have been posted in compliance with posting standards. Additionally, the college must remain neutral on candidates for public office and I imagine that there was some concern that the e-mail display might be construed as an action by the college either in support of or in opposition to a particular candidate. A fundamental difference between the e-mail postings and the wall (beyond the compliance with posting standards) is that one was about candidates and the other is about an issue.”
As to a request Rivera had heard from another student to remove the display, “Love will prevail… I think that just says a lot… that you’d want to take down love. I know it sounds kind of cliché, but it’s true.”
Rivera says the movement would like to keep the display up for a few more days, and then to “preserve it in some way.”