SMU students angered over lawn display policy change

In a time of unprecedented political divide, both Republicans and Democrats have found something they agree on.

They're students at SMU, and they all agree they believe a new policy regarding public displays violates their free speech.

For the past two years, a campus group has planted thousands of American flags in front of Dallas Hall. Students say they want to do it there because it's a busy spot, and it's where people went to pray and pay their respects on 9/11 in 2001. But the university says no student groups will have displays there any longer.

Dallas Hall is the icon of SMU. Its lawn hosts tributes and protests. Nearly 3,000 American flags are planted here for 9/11.  But in July, the university changed its policy, approving the 9/11 display on the campus — just not at Dallas Hall.

Grant Wolf is Chairman of Young Americans for Freedom, the student group that organizes the 9/11 memorial. He and other student leaders of groups like College Republicans and College Democrats received an email from SMU saying all lawn displays are restricted to MoMac Park, a new park which students say is in a far less prominent place on campus.

"That's simply contradictory to the definition of free speech,” Wolf said. “A university whose mission is the pursuit of truth through the exchange of ideas should not be in the business of determining which ideas are worthy of prominent display on campus."

Students take special issue with one line in the email that says, "The University also respects the right of all members of the community to avoid messages that are triggering, harmful or harassing."

Drew Wicker is the president of SMU College Republicans. His group organized this back the blue voter registration drive on the Dallas Hall lawn last year.

"I think it is an effective way of silencing us and making sure very few people hear our message,” he said.

Some lawn displays have caused controversy.

Carson Wright posted a video speaking out against an anti-abortion demonstration on the lawn two years ago. It received more than 100,000 views and prompted a pro-choice display in response.

"I think it's very unique that you see people from both sides of the aisle saying this is too far and we need to take a stand,” Wicker said. “Because if this can happen here, it can happen anywhere."

SMU released a statement saying MoMac Park is larger than the lawn and is along one of the most prominent drives on campus, The university said it “respects the rights of all campus community members to express their opinions, as well as their right to be free from coercion or harassment."