“Hello gorgeous world” was written in massive curly letters on a free speech beach ball in Smith Plaza Wednesday afternoon.
The inflatable beach ball — standing taller than some students — was brought to Smth Plaza by the UNM chapter of Young Americans for Liberty as a way to remind students of the importance of free speech, and to create dialogues between different-minded groups, according to YAL President Jess Ceron.
“We thought it would be a good idea to come out here and talk to them about how we don’t support one side of free speech, we support all sides,” Ceron said. “So anyone and everyone can write whatever they want on this ball. No one is gonna get in trouble for saying it.”
Every semester the group does a free speech event, and this is the second time they’ve used a beach ball, she said.
“This way it makes it fun, rather than if I was to sit here for 30 minutes and say, ‘Let me tell you about free speech.’ You’d doze off. But with this you can write whatever you want,” Ceron said. “No one’s going to get mad. People aren’t going to judge you for what you wrote.”
Typically student groups holding events outside, in the SUB or in a classroom reserve the space for free, and are asked to do so at least two business days before the event is scheduled to take place so that the space reservation can be approved.
Ceron said YAL intentionally didn’t go through that process because they don’t believe student organizations should have their free speech limited by space reservations. She said space reservations make holding events difficult because of the time it takes to reserve spaces and wait for a confirmation.
“We just don’t think that there should be zones where we’re allowed to do things, especially if we’re not hurting anyone,” she said. “And then they could shoot us down, like what if they didn’t like the idea of free speech? That’s kind of not fair to students, because
that is our right.”
Ceron said she had issues reserving space for a dodgeball event last semester. Student activities would not approve the event because of safety concerns, a reason that Ceron said she understood.
“They shot me down for many reasons where I was like, ‘I guess we can’t do this event,’” she said. “And I was like, ‘No that’s not fair,’ so I came out and did it without permission. They didn’t shoot me down. They didn’t say anything.”
Ceron said she didn’t think events should be denied unless they’ve happened before and already been a safety hazard.
YAL has experience with events not coming together, as they originally invited Milo Yiannopoulos to campus, but had to disinvite him and pass the speaker off to the College Republicans, she said.
“Milo himself has shown partisanship, and Young Americans for Liberty is not a partisan organization,” member Bryan Cusack said. “Due to the nature of its tax exemption status it cannot support anyone that supports a candidate.”
The group received a lot of messages over initially inviting the controversial Breitbart writer Yiannopoulos — they later transferred official hosting duties to UNM College Republicans — most of which they didn’t respond to, he said.
“Most of the criticisms, we just let them go because they were using ad hominem attacks on us,” Cusack said. “They were using a lot of logical fallacies against us trying to dehumanize the group. Essentially they were playing identity politics.”
Ceron said the free speech beach ball was especially important now because the group wants to clarify that everyone can say anything, and they don’t have to be nice.
“We had a girl who just failed her stats test and she said ‘Forget stats,’ and wrote it on there,” she said.
Officially the group is opposed to hate speech policies, Cusack said.
“We just advocate free speech in general, which means the abolishment of hate speech policies, because some of them are written to censor free speech. I could technically say hate speech, but at that point it’s still free speech, but it’s just offensive,” he said.
The beach ball eventually became adorned with all kinds of messages, some political, some more lighthearted. Just some of the scrawled comments: “RIP Harambe,” “There are only 2 genders” and “Love each other.”
“If you really don’t want to hear the other side, it’s totally fine,” Ceron said. “I just think if you gave your personal opinion on a subject then you should be able to hear it too.”
Cathy Cook is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Cathy_Daily.