After students led an effort to reverse Southern Methodist University's decision to relocate their annual 9/11 memorial, even garnering the support of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, the school is refusing to budge.
SMU's Young Americans for Freedom chapter received a notification from the university late last month explaining their annual 9/11: Never Forget Project memorial would have to be moved from Dallas Hall Lawn to "a location unquestionably less visible and further removed from students' everyday activities," according to SMU YAF chapter president Grant Wolf.
Their reasoning? A new policy adopted by administrators in July that restricts lawn displays to one park on campus, citing "the right of all members of the community to avoid messages that are triggering, harmful, or harassing."
SMU YAF blasted the school for implying its 9/11 memorial could potentially be perceived as "triggering." The students assembled a bipartisan coalition of their peers, College Democrats and Feminists for Equality included, to argue the policy undermined free speech and urge the university to reconsider its decision. In a letter sent to SMU's president on Wednesday, Abbott joined together with the students to "ask that the 9/11 display not be relegated to a far corner of campus."
"It should be celebrated in its heart," he insisted.
In a statement posted to its website, SMU apologized "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," the school added.
But students hoping SMU's apology meant YAF's 9/11 memorial would be allowed to remain in its original location were out of luck. "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 statement continued, indicating the school is holding firm to the meat of its new policy, if even the wording was altered. The updated policy carefully notes the school's right to impose "reasonable limitations" on the time, place, and manner of lawn displays "in order to serve the interest of health and safety, prevent interference in the conduct of University business, and protect against the infringement of the rights of others."
The removal of SMU's infantilizing language from its policy was a small victory for the YAF students who spent their summer break fighting for this important memorial. But every year, a surprising number of Young America's Foundation's displays on campuses become lightning rods for controversy, a sad trend I learned about the hard way when I worked for YAF on the project for two years.
In 2016, for instance, vandals at Occidental College threw flags from the display into the trash. At California State University, Los Angeles and the University of Michigan, academics expressed their displeasure with the displays. "It just bothers me," the woman at CSULA told students. Accompanying posters were vandalized across the country as well, including at Saddleback College in California where they were ripped right off the walls by an irate professor.
The sad truth these incidents reveal is that simple patriotism is more controversial on college campuses than many people likely realize. Good on the YAF students at SMU for pushing their university to support the memorial.
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.