University of Denver – October 2016

“Message wall” regulated after racial incident

Denver, CO

The University of Denver student government established rules limiting what students could write on a “free speech wall” on campus and also installed a security camera to monitor activity around the wall. The decision came after a #BlackLivesMatter message was partially defaced to change its meaning. In the immediate aftermath of the defacement, the student government temporarily covered the wall. The new rules mandated that students sign their names on any message they write on the wall and that messages, once written on the wall, could not be altered by other students.

Key Players

Rebecca Chopp, chancellor of the University of Denver, sent an email to students after racially charged messages appeared on the wall.

Ontario Dudley and approximately two hundred fellow students organized a rally on campus to protest race issues at the University of Denver following the defacement of the #BlackLivesMatter message.

Further Details

In 2014, the University of Denver student government established a Free Speech wall near the campus’s Driscoll Student Center.

In the fall of 2016, the wall bore a large message reading, “White People. Do Something. — #BlackLivesMatter.” An anonymous person, however, crossed out the words “white” and “black” with red spray paint leaving the message “People. Do Something — #LivesMatter,” reports Denverite.

Another message also appeared on the wall that quoted lyrics from the song Guilty of Being White by the hardcore punk band Minor Threat. The lyrics read: “I’m sorry for something I didn’t do — Lynched somebody but I didn’t know who. Guilty of being white. Guilty of being right,” according to Denverite.

In the aftermath of the racially charged message and the defacement of the #BlackLivesMatter post, more than 200 University of Denver students held a rally for positive racial dialogue. Sophomore Ontario Dudley led the rally, explaining, “This is a free speech wall, and we understand that’s something that can happen, but the reason we feel it’s necessary to come together as a community and have healing is because after the defacement of the wall someone used charged words such as ‘lynched.’ The student chose to act in an unproductive way that upset all students on campus, not just students of color,” Denverite reports.

In an email to the student body on October 7, 2016, University of Denver Student Government President Tess Greenwald and Vice President Chandler Carlson wrote that they had requested that the administration cover the wall. The student government also held an open meeting for students, in an effort to move the discussion of race on campus to “a place where we can see our humanity and engage our community more authentically,” reports Denverite.

Chancellor Rebecca Chopp wrote an email to the entire student body following the revisions and messages on the wall. She defended the #BlackLivesMatter movement, writing in part, “Supporting the Black Lives Matter movement does not make one anti-police or anti-white. Discussing and analyzing systems of oppression does not mean that all individuals of a certain group are bigots. Talking about implicit bias is meant to expand our appreciation of the complexities of the problem, not to dole out judgments.”

On October 16, 2016, after leaving the wall covered for nine days, the student government “revived” the Free Speech wall under new guidelines. Students could no longer edit messages or murals already present on the wall and were required to sign their name to any addition they make to it. The student government also placed a camera opposite the wall to monitor activity around it and ensure that it remain a venue for free and open expression.

In an email to students following the reopening of the wall, student government leaders wrote, “These guidelines are not intended to restrict free expression; rather they are a means through which we can continue to thrive as an inclusive community with a shared value system and many varied viewpoints.”

Outcome

Guidelines Established and Camera Installed

The University of Denver Student Government established two guidelines to regulate use of the wall: messages may not be edited by other students, and contributors are required to sign their names. A camera was also placed adjacent to the wall to monitor the space.

External References:

DU “free speech wall” gets new camera after recent racial messages, Denverite

University of Denver covers its free speech wall after ‘hurtful’ racial messages, Denverite

Prepared by Jack Lynch ‘18

August 22, 2017