Lawn residents criticize the university’s new signage restrictions to limit and censor the ability of Lawn residents to speak freely on their doors.
The revised policy restricts residents to signage that fits into two bulletin boards posted on each lawn room door. It was implemented by Housing and Residence Life following controversy over large billboards posted last fall and spring criticizing the University’s history of slavery and inaccessibility. Previously, lawns and course residents were allowed to have a 1.5 ‘by 2’ notice board outside their room to display paper documents.
“Last year, President Ryan pledged to review the University’s policy on the posting of signs on the lawn room doors and to strike a better balance between protecting the rights of the First Amendment of student residents and the preservation of the uniqueness and publicity of the lawn for members of our community. and visitors from around the world, ”University spokesman Wes Hester said in a statement to Cavalier Daily.
The college’s fourth-year student Nija Brown said the small size of the message boards was a way of silencing residents of Lawn Room.
“’Freedom of speech’ really means speech that upholds the good reputation of the school,” Brown said. “To me that says the university is afraid of being held responsible by tourists, passers-by, students, etc. Organizing tours anywhere on the lawn where one of the main talking points is how the school supports the defense of students’ interests [tour groups] have no idea that they are literally surrounded by examples of U.Va. do the opposite.
Brown said the restrictions are “very hypocritical” given the Visitors Council’s approval of a pledge to free speech last June. The statement “unequivocally affirms” the University’s dedication to freedom of expression, pledging that all opinions, beliefs and perspectives will be taken into account without interference.
“The University is going to choose its own reputation, regardless of what it claims to stand for,” Brown said.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education – a non-partisan foundation that works to “defend and maintain the rights of students and faculty in American colleges” – is also disappointed with the university’s new policy, according to Laura Beltz, Director of Policy Reform for FIRE.
“The new bulletin board policy only places neutral content and viewpoint restrictions on signs, which is allowed under the First Amendment,” Beltz said in an email to Cavalier Daily. “Legally eligible or not, however, we are disappointed that the University is limiting this opportunity for students to express themselves. “
Like Brown, Beltz also noted that the revised signage policy for residents of Lawn does not quite adhere to the University’s goal of affirming their commitment to free speech.
“While this policy does not ban billboards completely, it certainly reduces the ability of students to express themselves on their bulletin boards,” Beltz said. “We hope the University will reconsider the policy change.”
Joshua Franklin, a fourth-year engineering student and resident of Lawn, said that while it is understandable that the University does not want postings – such as disinformation – in “such a public space”, censoring students de Lawn is not the right approach to take.
“Throughout history, censorship has led to negative results,” Franklin said. “Of course U.Va. would not want negative U.Va. posts on the lawn, but since the person has a platform to share their opinion, this space should be encouraged.
Alex Moreno, a fourth-year college student and Lawn resident, also expressed his dissatisfaction with the new policy.
“While it is understandably undesirable for the U.Va. Administration to allow signs on the lawn room doors that criticize the University, I don’t think the current restrictions are the right place to continue. “Said Moreno.” Restricting the size of posts instead of restricting the content of posts on doors seems to be of little use to either the University or us, residents of Lawn. “