Turning point for free speech and policy change
A student club attempted to dodge responsibility Monday after a poster sparked a protest that resulted in University President Michael Benson sending a campus wide email that described the poster as an attempt to incite anger.
Grace Stewart, the president of Coastal’s Turing Point USA chapter, said the conservative club supports free speech, said they are falling victim to the current situation regarding posters on campus. The club made and distributed the posters that have become a flashpoint for campus. The poster featured two quotes, one by Martin Luther King Jr. that encouraged love, and one by Turning Point USA Vice President Ryne Stark that encouraged people to choose love over “critical hate theory.”
“Our goal was not to incite violence but to invite conversation,” Stewart said. “I think that was missed in President Benson’s email, and it made us sound like a horrible organization and horrible people.”
According to Associate Provost Jim Solazzo, the poster was approved through student life after consulting with him. As a result of the poster and protest, Benson email promised policy change would come by March 4. Administrators seemed to answer the student protesters.
Students who attended the protest voiced their concerns about the poster and how they felt it was inappropriate. Music major Amos Wise said the poster was “offensive, insensitive and inappropriate.”
“We say we bleed teal, but does the teal bleed for us?” Wise said. “To see everyone out there to support was amazing. There were faculty and staff out there to support us. This was a monumental if not legendary approach.”
During the Board of Trustees (BOT) meeting Feb.18, student leaders and members of various student organizations such as NAACP, NPHC, and Social Justice Club came together in protest. Students who gathered in front of the SingletonHall stairs chanted in protest of posters mislabeling critical race theory and misquoting Martin Luther King Jr.
“Celebrate Black History Month and Valentine’s Day by choosing love over critical hate theory” -Ryne Stark,” the Turning Point poster read.
Several campus leaders came outside to speak with the protesting students. Among the administrators were Benson; Solazzo; Chief of Staff Travis Overton; Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Atiya Stokes-Brown; University Counsel Carlos Johnson; Senior Vice President for Finance/ Chief Financial Officer David Frost; and Interim Vice President for Advancement and Alumni Engagement Diane Sanders.
After speaking with students, Solazzo had a disgusted look on his face and described the poster as “distasteful.”
Solazzo later said his comment was his own opinion and not necessarily that of the university. He said he approved the poster after extensive consultation with university counsel.
“One of the things we have learned from this is posters and flyers will still go through student life,” Solazzo said. “The practices, policies, and procedures currently in place are going to reviewed and revised in order to insure something like this does not happen again.”
Student Life administrator Katie Angulo, whose office in Lib Jackson Student Union features a poster quoting Martin Luther King Jr., said under the current poster policy student employees in the student life office are permitted to approve club and organization posters. When students and staff are unsure about a poster’s content, it is sent to university counsel for a second opinion before approval.
Per Coastal’s free speech, solicitation, and promotional events policy, groups and individuals can use campus for events if they align with CCU’s educational mission, values, and take into consideration the wellbeing of everyone on campus.
Free speech experts agreed the poster was protected under free speech. Pulitzer Prize finalist and free speech expert William Freivogel reviewed the poster. Continued on page 11.Turning Point poster approved by CCU
“[It] is protected by free speech under the First Amendment.” Freivogel said. “Free speech even protects hate speech.”
University of Missouri journalism professor Amy Simmons looked at the poster and agreed it’s protected under free speech.
“It does not mean that is speech that I agree with,” Simmons said.
Turning Point has repeatedly been in the news for campus controversy, including at University of South Carolina. Earlier this month, the U of SC NAACP chapter said the group was up in arms after a Turning Point member made racist and homophobic remarks during a student senate meeting. Turning Point USA national organization was founded in 2012. Coastal’s chapter currently has 83 members on Coastal Connections and more than 100 students on its email thread, according to Stewart. She was unsure when the Coastal chapter was founded but thought it was four to five years old.
According to Benson's email, “While the poster may have been deemed 'protected speech,' its carefully-constructed use of certain words, an opinion-based indirect reference to critical race theory—and even an image of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with this quote: 'Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that'—was created with a goal to incite. This is exactly what happened, and we have heard from students since Monday evening what hurtful and damaging collateral impact this message has had on many within our campus community.”
According to Benson's email, the posters are gone. On Monday, Wise said there are still some posters on campus.
Monday night, Stewart said, “The posters were taken down, and some might have been missed.” by the NAACP chapter at CCU to set up a meeting. But the NAACP chapter president could not confirm the meeting.
“To my knowledge, no, we did not reach out to Turning Point prior to the protest happening,” NAAACP chapter President Alexis Daly said.
Solazzo said the big question is how we can best move forward. Overton made several promises to the protestors, including Benson attending monthly meetings with student leaders as well as looking into how the poster was approved. The final promise was to attend the “Discussion of the Erasure of Undeniable History” on Feb. 28 at 5 p.m. in Johnson Auditorium.