DALLAS -- Southern Methodist University has removed "poor" wording from a policy regarding lawn displays on campus after a group of student organizations spoke out against it.
The Young Americans for Freedom group posted an open letter on Facebook to President R. Gerald Turner Tuesday, sent jointly by several organizations, to try and "ensure that Dallas Hall Lawn remains a forum of public discussion at our university," the group said.
The letter states that YAF, the group that displays 2,977 American flags on the lawn every year to honor those killed on Sept. 11, 2001, submitted a use of grounds request only to find out that SMU had changed its policy on where lawn displays are held.
The university told the group, the Facebook post says, that displays are no longer permitted on Dallas Hall Lawn, and now must be placed in MoMac Park.
Members of YAF wrote in the letter that the new location "is far less prominent than the iconic Dallas Hall Lawn, which thousands of students, faculty and local residents pass by every day and serves as the heart of our campus."
SMU said the school "respects the right of all members of the community to avoid messages that are triggering, harmful, or harassing," according to the letter.
"Freedom of speech is one of the most important of the inalienable rights of our nation. It has proven to be a fundamental prerequisite to democracy and freedom throughout history. People absolutely have to have a right to their own opinions, but this does not come with a right to be shielded from opposing ideas, especially in an environment dedicated to the learning, sharing and developing of new ideas," the group wrote the president.
Other displays that could be "triggering" include those that discuss abortion, the letter says.
"We are witnessing the degradation of the mission of higher learning at universities across the country because of policies like this.The question we ask is this: how can students change the world if they don’t have the opportunity to share and express their closely held values and beliefs?" the letter asks.
The school responded on Twitter and said that lawn displays were moved to MoMac Park due to it being a bigger space and closer to student housing.
"The previous site, a portion of the Dallas Hall lawn, is used frequently for outdoor class space, studying between classes... and a variety of university events throughout the year," the school tweeted. "Creating the need for a different, yet still prominent, display area."
The school then said Wednesday that the policy had been updated to better reflect this balance and to "remove the poor wording regarding triggering or harmful messages."
Full text: pic.twitter.com/04oEv0joh2— SMU (@SMU) August 1, 2017
Map of MoMac Park, the larger site where all approved lawn displays, regardless of sponsoring organization or subject, will be located. pic.twitter.com/MqWFgMB5i5— SMU (@SMU) August 1, 2017
Here's the university's full statement:
"The request for a 9/11 display on campus by SMU’s Young Americans for Freedom was approved by SMU on Wednesday, July 26, for the new location designated for all campus displays.
SMU considers this memorial display to be an important campus event that is helpful in remembering the lives lost on 9/11. The group’s requests for displays have been approved in previous years, and SMU as a community has held 9/11 memorial events every five years since 2001, including a notable event last year in collaboration with area first responders.
SMU apologizes for the original inappropriate wording that was used in the new policy on campus displays. That language – regarding messages that are triggering or harmful – was added earlier in July and had not gone through the appropriate approval process.
While the language did not apply to this approved request for a memorial display, the wording has been revised to be consistent with official University policy (Student Activities Policies/Lawn Displays).
SMU remains absolutely committed to the freedom of expression of all campus community members. SMU moved all lawn displays from the previous location, a portion of the Dallas Hall lawn, because it is used by campus community members as a place for studying, outdoor classes and a variety of University events throughout the year.The new location, MoMac Park, is an open and centrally located space along Bishop Boulevard, the most prominent drive on campus. It is near much of the University’s student housing and measures nearly 2 acres."