Southern Methodist University officials reached an agreement Wednesday with student leaders to reverse a policy for on-campus displays that sparked controversy after a 9/11 memorial was moved to a spot critics said was less prominent.
Every year since 2010, the SMU chapter of Young Americans for Freedom has placed nearly 3,000 flags on the Dallas Hall lawn in remembrance of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
But university officials adopted a policy in July prohibiting displays outside Dallas Hall. Instead, they would be permitted at Morrison-McGinnis Park, which the college says is larger and near the center of campus on Bishop Boulevard.
In a joint statement Young Americans issued with other organizations, including SMU College Democrats and Republicans and Mustangs for Life, the groups said they are “pleased and grateful” that the university was changing its policy.
“This represents a landmark victory for the free speech rights of the entire SMU student body,” the statement said.
Young Americans leader Grant Wolf had criticized the university’s policy change, calling it an attack on free speech.
Gov. Greg Abbott weighed in, urging the school to permit students to place the 9/11 memorial flags in their “traditional place of honor” on the Dallas Hall lawn.
All one-day displays will now be placed on the northern section of the Dallas Hall lawn. Displays lasting up to three days will go on the southern section of the lawn.
SMU revised its policy that stated that displays could only be placed at Morrison-McGinnis Park, colored blue in the above map.
“This agreement provides dedicated spaces for lawn displays while also preserving open spaces for studying, classes, events and recreation,” the university said in a written statement Tuesday. “The goal is to balance the needs of all campus community members in use of this historic space.”
SMU said it also plans to consult with student groups as it reviews and amends its policies regarding the displays.
“I thank the students from across campus who came together in the spirit of mutual respect and civil discourse to achieve this outcome,” SMU President R. Gerald Turner said in the written statement. “Throughout these discussions, students have expressed their commitment to freedom of expression — a value the university shares.”
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