News and Commentary

Cal Poly Students Protest A Free Speech Wall for Having Free Speech

Roughly 130 students at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo protested a faux Berlin Wall that was built to symbolize free speech.

As a part of Young America’s Foundation’s Freedom Week, the Cal Poly College Republicans built the fake Berlin Wall. It’s a yearly tradition to build the wall and let it stand for a week for students to write whatever they want on it, and then tear it down to celebrate the actual Berlin Wall coming down. Naturally, there is going to be offensive speech on the wall since people can write anonymously. This year, SLO Solidarity organized a rally that resulted in two straight days of protest against the wall.

Here is a list of comments that students found offensive on the wall:

  • “All Lives Matter”
  • “Islam is a political movement of violence and oppression” underneath a picture of Mohammed carrying rifles and explosives.
  • “Don’t draw me I’ll jihad your face! ALLAHU AKBAR” was next to the Mohammed picture.
  • “Islam has no place in free Western World.”
  • Blank checklist showing “male,” “female” and then “Gender: Pick One”

Apparently this was enough to get people very, very offended and worried about inclusivity on campus.

“The people who say (All Lives Matter) … are not supporting any of the Hispanics that gotta deal with (Donald) Trump’s bullshit,” Black Student Union member and psychology junior Kristin Lee told Mustang News. “They’re not supporting any of the black people that gotta deal with white privilege or anything or on campus. They’re not supporting anything, but they want to say ‘All Lives Matter.'”

Lee said that her mother warned her that she would experience racism at Cal Poly, and she apparently has experienced some, which begs the question as to why she would continue to attend the university if it’s such a hateful, racist campus.

Many of the protesters who took offense to the comments on the wall were from the Queer Student Union.

“These comments are toxic to the people affected,” Matt Klepfer, president of Cal Poly’s QSU, told the Tribune. “We’re encouraging people not to be silent about expressing their feelings.”

Cal Poly College Republicans President Paul Sullivan told the Tribune, “We don’t condone it but respect their right to say it, even though it’s crazy.”

“These comments are toxic to the people affected. We’re encouraging people not to be silent about expressing their feelings.”

Matt Klepfer, president of Cal Poly’s QSU

Cal Poly Vice President for Student Affairs Keith Humphrey sent out a campus-wide email regarding the wall. The email was obtained by The Daily Wire:
Last night more than 100 students, faculty and staff gathered on Dexter Lawn to stand in solidarity in response to written comments and drawings on a student club sponsored free speech wall. Some of the written comments and drawings were hurtful and mean spirited towards members of the Cal Poly community. I stood with them and shared in the pain that these students feel when words are used to hurt.

While these words are protected speech under the First Amendment, we need to stand together as a community that cares about each other. Our students were clear that behavior that excludes others has no place at Cal Poly. I agree with them. Our President, Provost, Deans and other campus leaders agree with them. Fostering an inclusive campus climate is everyone’s responsibility. It’s my responsibility, it’s your responsibility. Every one of us is responsible.

Standing strong in response to hurtful and mean spirited behavior should not end at last night’s Dexter gathering. We must all continue to use our voices to ensure that Cal Poly is an inclusive place to live, learn and grow.

Our students talked about leading this change – which they should. They talked about starting small – in our clubs, organizations and living spaces – to continue last night’s discussion and transmit a higher level of expectation for inclusion in our community.

Cal Poly students are leaders who engage in the difficult conversations – respectfully – like they did last night. I want to encourage each of you to purposefully engage in these conversations with your fellow Mustangs. If you don’t find yourself in such a conversation soon, create one.

The Cal Poly College Republicans wrote on their Facebook page, “The purpose of the wall is to celebrate the fact we, in the United States, have the freedom to express our views and opinions openly without fear of repercussion from the government. The Free Speech Wall was in no way a response to protests and student movements at The University of Missouri and Yale University.”
The group continued, “We acknowledge the fact that individuals of Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo may have been offended by the words and depictions displayed on the Free Speech Wall. We do not condone, in fact we condemn, the use of hateful statements towards the transgender community, people of any religious doctrine, political philosophy, gender identity, etc. In light of these statements, we strongly encourage and applaud the response from the‪#‎SloSolidarity‬ movement and others as they use their right to free speech to educate the community about these issues rather than attempting to silence other people’s right to free speech.”
That’s certainly a classy way to handle it.
The university recognized that the wall was permissible under the First Amendment and will not punish the Cal Poly College Republicans. But compare the response to the faux Berlin Wall this year to the response in 2013: “Looking over this, some of these things, they offend me, they will offend people and it’s important to note that free speech, it can often be quite offensive,” Nate Honeycutt, then-president of the Cal Poly Republicans Club, told Mustang News. “People don’t have a right to not be offended. We’re just kind of putting this up and just letting people run with it.”
Then-computer science freshman Andrew Tran told Mustang News, “If we just have something where you can just post things anonymously, somebody is bound to abuse it but that doesn’t mean that free speech is a bad thing. I think it should still be there.”
In 2013, people had debates on the wall; there were no protests. That’s the point of the wall. What has changed between now and then is that college students have become petulant children where feelings trump logic, reason and debate; they are offended by noncontroversial statements like “All Lives Matter.” Free speech is being trumped by childish feelings.
This article has been modified to correct Kristin Lee’s name.
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