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New Florida act allows protests throughout college campus grounds

Free speech will no longer be confined to small slices on campus known as “free speech zones.”

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New Florida act allows protests throughout college campus grounds

The FAU Free Speech Lawn in front of the Boca campus Social Science Building. Joshua Giron | Photo Editor

The FAU Free Speech Lawn in front of the Boca campus Social Science Building. Joshua Giron | Photo Editor

The FAU Free Speech Lawn in front of the Boca campus Social Science Building. Joshua Giron | Photo Editor

The FAU Free Speech Lawn in front of the Boca campus Social Science Building. Joshua Giron | Photo Editor

Cameren Boatner, Staff Writer

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Protesters will no longer be confined to the small area on the Boca campus deemed the “Free Speech Lawn.”

The Campus Free Expression Act, signed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott earlier this month, will eliminate the areas on public college campuses where protests are quarantined. Starting July 1, protests can take place on virtually all outdoor campus areas.

Members of FAU are split on whether or not the act will be positive in the long run.

Adjunct communications professor Glenn Singer worries the legislation will encourage some groups to frequent the campus to recruit student support.

“Opening up an entire campus to potential protesters, instead of limiting them, might encourage more white supremacists or nationalists to use the campus as a base,” Singer said.

In February 2017, white supremacist group Identity Evropa flyered on the Boca campus. The organization supports racial segregation and deportation of immigrants.

Although, he doesn’t think this act will drastically change the state of the university.

“I don’t think all of the sudden we’re opening the floodgates to all sorts of protesters,” he said.

And while Singer doesn’t see much change for the future of protesting on campus, he does believe the new act will encourage civil discourse and free speech amongst students, faculty, and administration.

He’s been at FAU for 30 years and has “seen this place grow.”

In the past, he said he’s had his Public Opinion students organize and protest an issue on campus, adding that his students’ demonstrations have never been shut down by FAU. He believes that even if they were outside the free speech zone, the university wouldn’t attempt to stop them.

FAU College Democrats President Sophie Siegel said she’s had similar experiences. The 20-year-old political science major maintains that FAU is lenient in its policy.

As part of a global movement, Siegel coordinated a SlutWalk in 2017 and 2018 to promote body positivity. Though she didn’t have university permission to lead the walks around campus and out of the Free Speech Lawn, no one attempted to stop her.

“[FAU is] very supportive of students exercising their First Amendment rights,” Siegel said.

And former professor James Tracy said the university’s policy isn’t always carried out.

“FAU’s free speech policy is fine as written. The problem is that it’s not fairly enforced across the board and is contradicted by other university [policies] and regulations,” he said via email.

Tracy was fired in 2016 and sued FAU over what he insisted was a free speech issue.

And because he values the First Amendment, he sees these zones as directly limiting free speech on college campuses.

“The legislation is good in that it abolishes the poorly-conceived and anti-free speech ‘Free Speech Zones’ on campus,” he said via email. “The law is unhelpful, however, in that it seeks to enforce free speech limitations on the university community through the threat of legal action from anyone who believes their First Amendment rights have been violated.”

He’s referring to the act’s legislation stating people who believe their free speech rights have been interfered with may sue the university.

The conspiracy theorist was fired in 2016 for failing to report outside donations to his blog, though he claimed it was over his controversial post stating the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a government ploy to promote gun control.

He added that he doesn’t think the act will have much of an impact as most students work several jobs off campus and commute.

“The last I checked FAU students and faculty are not very politically active or engaged,” he said.

“There are exceptions to this, such as in 2013 when the FAU community took a principled stand against FAU’s affiliation with the GEO Group. Still, the elimination of the ‘Free Speech Zones’ will set the groundwork for such engagement if it’s rekindled.”

Tracy was referencing the 2013 student protests against FAU’s football stadium deal with a private prison group under fire for human rights violations.

Students and faculty dubbed the stadium “Owlcatraz” in protest of the university’s then-decision to name its stadium after the group. After, the group withdrew the $6 million offer, stating the ordeal had become a “distraction” for both parties.

Political science professor Marshall DeRosa has always had a problem with free speech zones and thinks they’re “somewhat ridiculous.”

He said the university is giving its students “the wrong idea” by restricting free speech to one area of the campus. DeRosa added that there is a preference for left-leaning opinions on campus, with very few conservative professors and administrators.

“There’s a chill that’s been thrown over the campus that only certain opinions are ‘acceptable,’” he said.

The only way the act will change the climate of free speech at FAU, DeRosa said, is if the students utilize the tools that are now provided to them.

“Is there a remnant of students out there that take First Amendment rights seriously, and that goes from the left to the right to the center, do they respect opinions with which they disagree?” DeRosa asked.

Meanwhile, College Republicans President Brandon Walker believed in the act before it was passed. He said his group considers the legislation a “great victory” overall, adding that they supported its passing.

The College Republicans rallied for the act over social media and urged their followers to call Gov. Scott’s office and encourage him to sign the legislation.  

“[The Florida Federation of College Republicans] got us all involved in a huge push to urge [then] Senator Rick Scott to sign the bill when it hit his desk,” Walker said.

Siegel said that the College Democrats support the act as well because they are passionate about the public’s right to free speech.

And although the College Republicans don’t participate in many protests, Walker plans to “test the waters” of the new free speech policy that must go into place at FAU.

“[It wouldn’t be] to cause any conflict, but just to see how far we can go without FAU trying to clamp down on us,” he said.

The University Press reached out to administration for comment on the integration of the act’s statutes into current FAU policy. Joshua Glanzer, assistant vice president for Media Relations and Public Affairs, replied with the following statement on behalf of FAU.

“The University is in the process of reviewing and updating any and all policies [affected] by the Campus Free Expression Act. During that review, which will be completed in the shortest possible time, all University policies will be implemented consistent with the new statutory requirements.”

Cameren Boatner is a contributing writer with the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected].

About the Writer
Cameren Boatner, Staff Writer

Cameren is a senior multimedia journalism major and digital marketing minor who's previously worked as  the news editor. She currently works as an intern...

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