Members of Emory’s Student Government Association (SGA) and Emory administration officials have been working together to explore the idea of designating a specific area on main campus to serve as a “free expression zone.”
The zone is meant to serve as a permanently available space where students can express themselves artistically, socially or politically without having to first make a reservation.
Students and faculty collaborating on the project have tentatively chosen the area between the Dobbs University Center (DUC) and Cox Hall due to its centralized location on campus.
While we believe that very good intentions underlie these proposals, we are concerned that the change could work contrary to its stated goals of promoting student expression and solidifying a sense of community.
At a fundamental level, the concept of designating a specific area as a free expression zone seems to imply that other locations on campus are not. We do not at all believe that this was ever the intention, but it is a potential byproduct of the creation of such a zone and must be taken into account.
Should such a zone be established, the area ought to be promoted as an additional space, not the designated space.
The zone should be marketed as one of various locations on campus where students are actively encouraged to express themselves. We would be deeply disappointed if the implementation of this measure caused students to consider any area on campus that falls outside of the zone as being off limits to self-expression, whether political or artistic in nature.
Some of the members of the initiative have also noted that a designated area would promote safer means of free expression. Dean of Students Bridget Guernsey Riordan remarked that this change could hold students more accountable, therefore potentially discouraging hateful acts of expression.
While we recognize that the University has seen a few instances of hateful self-expression in the past, these cases are the exception, and most students seem to practice good judgment when advertising various causes around campus.
The news of this project also reminded us of certain incidents from last spring, such as one when a banner made by Students and Workers in Solidarity was reportedly torn down.
While the free expression zone may prevent similar acts of disrespect toward student expression in the future, we believe that this suggests that the University policy on self-expression around campus should be standardized, not necessarily that a designated zone needs to be created.
We understand that a designated free expression zone is meant to be a positive addition to the community, and although we see the potential, we regret that such an initiative is necessary at all.