Posted October 16, 2017
The leadership for the new student organization Young Americans Liberty, whose champion cause is protecting the right to freedom of speech, could not come up with any examples of their free speech being limited or attacked on campus. When told that the University of Wisconsin System is implementing a student policy that calls for suspending and expelling students who disrupt campus speeches and presentations, UWRF YAL Vice President Elijah Anderson’s answer did not change.
This new policy is still waiting on written administrative rules and final approval from the governor and lawmakers, but it states that students found to have twice engaged in violence or other disorderly conduct that disrupts others’ free speech would be suspended. Students found to have disrupted others’ free expression three times would be expelled.
Anderson, a previous UWRF student senator, is very focused on protecting the First Amendment and hopes to use this club as a forum to further discuss the topic. He said that the incoming System’s policy to regulate student disruptions during speeches is “a pretty good idea” that he hopes will be used to hold students accountable for damaged property caused during campus riots and will hopefully prevent students from making any immature outbursts in the middle of someone else talking. Anderson thinks that suspension after two strikes does seem harsh but that the new is not completely unjustifiable due to the protests he heard about from when Milo Yiannopoulus tried to speak at UC-Berkeley.
As of the Sept. 26th Student Government Association meeting, AJ Plehal and Elijah Anderson, president and vice president of the UWRF chapter were granted approval for the Young Americans for Liberty to be recognized as a student organization on campus. This new student club gives UW-River Fall’s students one more outlet through which they can explore their political leanings and rights.
Founded in 2008, the student organization Young Americans for Liberty, after the end of the presidential campaign of then-U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R – Texas). While Paul campaigned as a Republican candidate, the student organization is heavily influenced by libertarian values and was formed on college campuses soon after the end of his campaign.
The current description and mission of YAL, and of the UWRF chapter, is to “recognize the natural rights of life, liberty, and property set forth by our Founding Fathers … to identify, educate, train and mobilize youth activists committed to ‘winning on principle.’ Our goal is to cast the leaders of tomorrow and reclaim the policies, candidates and direction of our government.”
The SGA decision to approve the new student organization however, was not a unanimous one. After SGA members questioned Plehal and Anderson about their chapter, what they would bring to campus, and what events they intend to have, one SGA senator still had some doubts. At-large SGA senator Halley White, a junior at UWRF, was the sole member of the SGA to vote no to approving this new student club.
White cited hate speech incidents written on free speech boards that the UW-Eau Claire YAL chapter experienced, that went seemingly unresolved by the school and by the YAL student organization. She said that was one of the reasons she felt she needed to cast an opposing vote. White said that she is particularly concerned by the effect potential hate and violent speech will have on campus culture and that as a student of color she is personally wary of how this chapter of YAL will deal with this type of language.
When SGA senator Halley White’s concerns were brought to Plehal and Anderson’s attention after her vote, they said they did not know of any hate speech incidents that took place at the UW-Eau Claire campus. The UWRF YAL chapter president and vice president further felt that such fears of hate speech here at UWRF seemed unfounded due to what they feel is an inclusive environment on campus.
The UWRF YAL chapter hopes to give students the opportunity to be politically active without declaring themselves as a Republican or a Democrat. This Libertarian-focused organization intends to collaborate with the Republican and Democrat student organizations on campus for debates and other activities.
Plehal, who identifies with Libertarian values, will be focusing on increasing awareness for freedom of speech, even though he does not think that his or free speech on the UWRF campus is under any kind of attack. One activity that Plehal intends to promote an awareness of the First Amendment is by having a free speech beach ball where anyone can write anything they want on it.
“We don’t have the First Amendment to talk about weather, he said. It is so we can say very controversial things. It’s important we can all speak our minds in order to have an inclusive university.”
Plehal did note that he knows there is a difference between free speech and hate speech, and that their YAL chapter is “very connected with the chancellor’s message of being inclusive of free speech.”
The new student organization, which meets Wednesdays at 7 p.m. in KFA 281, is starting to garner some interest among students, according to YAL chapter president Plehal. “I want to stress that we are a non-partisan organization” he said, “open to anyone across the political spectrum who is really just interested in the idea of liberty and what that means to you.”