‘Pro-liberty’ group challenges campus speech code


Brady Leatherwood protest with the women’s rights advocates in Shoemaker Square Wednesday afternoon. Students gather around in between classes to watch the anti-abortion activists that frequent the Southern Miss campus.

Young Americans for Liberty is looking to form a chapter locally at USM, bringing with them a petition to reform the campus speech code and get rid of free speech zones. This petition is to allow all of campus to be treated as a free speech zone and to reform the “yellow light” policies in our speech code.

YAL is a group focused on individual rights and freedoms.

“The organization was founded after Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign after the whole freedom movement began,” said Chase Wilson, national member and proponent for starting a group on campus. “So it’s kind of off that same principle. They’re a nonpartisan group. They just focus on liberty in general.”

YAL and other groups have been trying to make changes for freedom of speech in other universities around the country, including at MSU and Ole Miss which both have received green ratings from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Southern Miss is ranked at yellow, as is Alcorn State. Jackson State and Delta State have both been rated as red, meaning that at least one policy restricts freedom of speech.

“[The] University of Southern Mississippi has been given the speech code rating Yellow,” FIRE’s website said. “Yellow light colleges and universities are those institutions with at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application.”

FIRE has an excerpt from their website describing one policy that could be arbitrarily interpreted.

“Lewd, indecent, or obscene conduct, including expression of profanity, which exceeds the normal standards of decency prevailing in the general Hattiesburg community at large,” FIRE’s website said.

The Director of Policy Reform Azhar Majeed said that the ratings are based on a very comprehensive look through policies regarding speech codes through various forms of documentation.

“FIRE rates schools on their speech codes by looking at all of their policy materials that pertain to students and faculty speech and conduct,” Majeed said. “We try to do a comprehensive look through schools–codes of student conduct, their faculty materials, their student handbooks, their mission statements, really all applicable policy materials to get as comprehensive a review as we can.”

Majeed said Mississippi’s institutions are doing well on matters of free speech, but there are still some problem areas.

Majeed said USM is doing better than they have in the past, but they still have a ways to go before they can actually earn the green light.

“Well when it comes to The University of Southern Mississippi, there’s good and bad,” Majeed said. “The good is that they have worked with FIRE recently to revise some of their speech codes. The bad is that they still have a few more of those that need to be improved to meet First Amendment standards.”

Majeed said USM has had red light policies in the past, and those have been reformed with the help of FIRE’s legal team. USM has worked with them before and FIRE urges the university to continue reforming.

The five free speech zones currently on campus are Weathersby Lawn, Union Plaza, Shoemaker Square, Kennard-Washington Lawn and Centennial Lawn.

These are the places that free speech is completely unrestricted. YAL contends that the entire university should be a free speech zone.

State coordinator for YAL Tavish Kelly said their mission for YAL at USM is to protect student’s and the community’s first amendment rights.

“We’d like to remove the sections on free speech zones and obscenity, and to clarify language in the sections on sexual harassment and student rights and responsibilities to ensure that mere offensive speech is protected as the First Amendment requires,” Kelly said.