For one week only students are congregating in Adamson Plaza to anonymously scrawl political convictions profanity shocking social statements critiques of Pepperdine and much more across the Free Speech Wall as the College Libertarians host Free Speech Week at Pepperdine.
To commemorate the signing of the Constitution on Sept. 171787 Pepperdine College Libertarians President Michelle Fields wanted to honor the freedoms championed by the 39 signers of the Constitution and encourage uninhibited discourse in the university community.
“It’s extremely important because here at Pepperdine I think a lot of students do have opinions that conflict with the values of the Church of Christ and they’re afraid to say these things Fields said. That’s not what college is about– college is about exploring ideas and having academic and intellectual freedom.”
Mark Davis Dean of Student Affairs said he sees no contradiction between freedom of speech and Pepperdine’s religious affiliation.
“Pepperdine is happy to extend to students the same first amendment rights that students at public universities enjoy wrote Davis in an e-mail to the Graphic. Although we are a private Christian university I see no conflict between our faith heritage and allowing students to freely express themselves.”
Fields a senior said this temporary Free Speech Wall allows students to express themselves in a way the Freedom Wall located outside the bookstore entrance of the Tyler Campus Center cannot.
Seeking true freedom of speech and expression Fields approached Davis to discuss the possibility of a wall dedicated to truly free speech which would not preclude the use of profanity and other displays that could be unnerving to the university. Davis said that there may be misconceptions about the Freedom Wall.
“I find it ironic that the Freedom Wall installed by SGA in 2003 may have unintentionally sent the message that this location is the only place where students can freely express themselves on campus Davis said. …We are not interested in regulating the content of students’ postings. Although some speech is not protected (e.g. obscenity libel) and is therefore subject to removal nothing that I’ve seen to date rises to that level.”
In response to students’ astonishment that the Free Speech Wall was approved by the administration Davis asserted that students should not be so surprised based on the university’s religious beliefs.
“The religious movement with which Pepperdine is affiliated was founded on the premise that individuals should have the freedom to express themselves regardless of what church authorities or creeds might say Davis wrote. I see no reason why our Pepperdine students shouldn’t enjoy all the freedom of speech rights protected by law.”
Since the Free Speech Wall was put up Sunday night Fields said the membership of the Pepperdine College Libertarians Facebook group has increased significantly.
Though the wall is scheduled to be up through midnight on Friday students already filled the paper that originally composed the Free Speech Wall by Wednesday requiring an expansion of the wall’s surface area.
There has been an overwhelmingly positive response to Free Speech Week with Fields receiving an abundance of messages thanking her for the outlet to air previously guarded opinions.
“It’s funny and it’s great. I wish they’d leave it here freshman Dhruv Dhall said. It doesn’t seem like what’s being said on the wall goes along with the values of Pepperdine but it shows that the school isn’t constrictive– there’s all sorts of opinions here whether conservative or liberal and that breaks some of the pre-conceptions people have of Pepperdine.”
Others saw this as an opportunity for some students to abuse the freedom to make crude immature comments.
Junior Chris Martell said the “wall is a joke in many ways explaining that too much of what is being written on the wall is vapidly intended to get laughs, while the number of students responding bravely, honestly and deeply was too small.
In response to the more obscene comments, Fields thought the value of the serious remarks outweighed narrow-mindedness and negativity. In fact, students have moderated the Wall themselves, questioning comments on the Wall, writing responses and even blacking out blatantly offensive remarks.
While there are some purely comedic comments on there there are also serious comments that really reflect the state of our economy our nation and our university Fields said. Overall this something positive. Students are engaging in discussion about issues. They’re talking about Palestine about human rights gay rights. And this is something that should happen all the time at Pepperdine not just for one week. This is a university; there should be freedom of thought without constraints.”
While conversing at the Free Speech Wall some students discussed whether prospective students on their first tour of Pepperdine would revise their opinion of Pepperdine after seeing the more obscene statements. Davis hopes that the underlying freedom will prove more influential than the comments themselves.
“I hope they are impressed that a Christian university has nothing to fear from freedom of expression Davis wrote. I also hope that many of us are embarrassed that prospective students will read the few ignorant racist sexist and homophobic postings and get the wrong impression about the vast majority of our student body.”
Davis attributed the distasteful postings to the newness of this unbridled freedom.
“I hope these types of postings reflect a fleeting carelessness from newfound freedom rather than a deep-rooted contempt for others in our community Davis wrote. With freedom comes responsibility and so I hope all of us feel responsible for the type of community we create with our words.”