“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” – Evelyn Beatrice Hall (often miscited to Voltaire)
For the second time this week a misguided and self-righteous individual has decided that Free Speech is only for the majority. At Pepperdine University yesterday the “Free Speech Wall” was destroyed by sophomore student Joel Lopata. Lopata took it upon himself to protect the students of Pepperdine from anything that might be deemed controversial or offensive, in fact he described the wall as, “nameless, faceless and very cowardly.”
The “Free Speech Wall’ was a project of the College Libertarians at Pepperdine to celebrate Constitution Day. Under the leadership of Michelle Fields and Elisha Soch the Libertarians wanted to host a unique event that would spur discussion around campus. The project itself had a rocky beginning and the group had to jump through many bureaucratic hoops in order to exercise free speech on campus. In fact, it wasn’t until September 3 that permission was granted to suspend the university speech codes.
While FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) does not rate Pepperdine because it is a private school it is known to be very strict in regards to free speech. Some of the codes prohibit “disrespect”, forced adherence to biblical teachings, forbids “lifestyles inconsistent with biblical teaching” and forbids references to sex, alcohol, or narcotics.
While some of the statements on the wall were most certainly offensive and controversial many of them were inspiring and inquisitive. The comments ranged from criticisms of the college and religion to political statements about tolerance and America’s policies towards Palestine. Some even used the wall to voice private thoughts, similar to PostSecret, like one student who admitted his desire to be Asian.
Regardless of the actions of one man who fears discussion and free speech this story has a happy ending. The College Libertarians, College Republicans, Young Democrats and Green Team started rebuilding the wall this morning. This setback could be the catalyst that inspires more cooperation among the differing political parties on campus. Despite the wishes of some who would rather a world of the numbness that comes from the restriction of ideas and debate, the push for liberty on campus continues.
But what about next week when the wall is forced down by the administration. As senior Owen Lloyd asked, “Did free speech disappear?” Unfortunately, that is a likely scenario for the students at Pepperdine on Monday, when they will return to forced compliance with rules that do nothing to encourage the thoughtful examination and exploration necessary to achieve a true education.