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Flags on the Lawn- How SMU Students Rallied for Freedom of Speech

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at SMU chapter.

This past Monday, the green lawn in front of Dallas Hall was transformed into a sea of red, white and blue. An initiative of the “SMU Young Americans for Freedom”, nearly 3,000 American flags are staked in the grass before SMU’s oldest building to memorialize and honor the innocent lives lost on September 11, 2001. The tribute has successfully concluded its third year, but despite the meaningful demonstration earlier this week, the process to erect the display was the cause of a fair amount of controversy and strife.

On July 24, the Young American’s for Freedom (YAF) received notice that their request to hold the demonstration on Dallas Hall Lawn was denied, and would instead need to be located on a less central plot of land, MoMac park. The idea was that this relocation would allow students to avoid potentially sensitive demonstrations, as the average SMU student passes Dallas Hall to get to their classes or extracurriculars. This was not specific to YAF’s 9/11 memorial, but was intended to be a campus wide ruling. The policy change called into question the idea of freedom of speech at a university-wide level. College is typically the first time young leaders live independently, and with this privilege comes exposure to a diverse environment of students with varying backgrounds, beliefs and attributes. Is censorship of potentially sensitive subject matter stifling and counterproductive to students development towards adulthood? Or is it a university’s responsibility to prevent feelings of discomfort and promote a safe environment? These controversial ideas were called into question on a national level.

The university ruled that no displays were to be held on Dallas Hall Lawn, but instead in MoMac park to allow students to avoid potentially sensitive subject matters and demonstrations. This was speculated to be in response to a demonstration from an anti-abortion organization on campus, Mustangs for Life, that featured the placement of crosses all over Dallas Hall’s lawn in 2016. This was perceived as a jarring and aggressive political display. However, the main point posed by those in opposition of the new policy was the fact that the 9/11 display is not a politically charged statement, but purely one of patriotism, mourning and honor.


After the efforts of YAF, SMU Alumni and the general public, SMU announced a reversal of their decision to relocate the display on August 11, 2017. The controversy related to this display is a perfect example of SMU students and Americans persevering and collaborating to make change. Though it can be difficult to oppose administration, communication and action have the capability to be extremely effective in making change in pursuit of one’s beliefs. No matter how you feel about the display, it is a story of the communal spirit and patriotism of young world changers and a testament to the will and determination of SMU students and Americans.



We are the SMU Team.