Tennessee Leadership Institute’s Kelsey Mix set up a “Free Speech Ball” in Bison Square Wednesday afternoon.
“I am a field person for the Leadership Institute where I partner with college students who want to advocate for free speech on campuses,” Mix said. “We’re here advocating for the first amendment and supporting free speech on college campuses.”
Nix and the Leadership Institute work in relation to FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education). This organization uses speech codes to determine the degree to which each university violates or protects free speech.
A “red light” institution has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. A “yellow light” institution is one whose policies restrict a more limited amount of expression or are vague in description and can be manipulated in many ways. If a college or university’s policies do not seriously imperil speech, that college or university receives a “green light.”
Lipscomb isn’t listed on FIRE’s site as they haven’t updated the policies in question since 2001.
“There isn’t a strict policy that says we can’t be out here promoting this, but there are policies that say administration can reserve the right to ask you to leave,” she said.
This movement gave students the opportunity to “say whatever they want” by writing opinions, statements, questions and more all over the ball.
Comments ranged from “Love wins” to “My mental health should not be ignored” and “Black Lives Matter.” Several students stopped by the attraction to voice an opinion of support.
“I think that this is a great way to do it. I mean it got my attention from across the student center,” senior Madeline Peeler said. “I had no idea that this was an issue, or that things like the Constitution example could happen.
“You would think that Christian campuses would be more accepting and open-minded but it always ends up being the opposite.”
By promoting the Free Speech Ball in the square, Nix said she hoped it would bring awareness.
“Most people don’t even know that free speech zones exist or don’t believe those kind of ridiculous stories,” she said. “I have a friend, Isaac, in Michigan who was arrested for handing out Constitutions on his campus.”
Certain policies against blocking sidewalks or main entrances, causing a noise disruption or acting in a way that disturbs the education process is not considered a “red light” offense.
What constitutes a “red light” offense is when the administration uses student tuition for things that are not discussed or laid out to the students beforehand; for example, using student activity fees included in tuition for speaking events.
“At private universities you kind of sign your rights away,” Nix said.
This makes the entire campus a “red light” zone, meaning anything said or done at any time on campus can be considered “inappropriate,” and the person inciting the action can be asked to leave at any time.
“Private school officials have discretion of what they want you to do and what they allow you to do,” Nix said. “They can do what they want.”