Editorial: VSU deserves credit for stance on free speech

| February 29, 2016


By Adam Floyd | Editor, ValdostaToday.com

Valdosta State University has been raked over the coals in the last year. Changes to graduation ceremonies, the Eric Sheppard incident and now a visit from Donald Trump has put the school in the cross-hairs of unhappy students and Valdosta residents.

ValdostaToday even went after the school last week when we questioned if VSU Event Services ignored their own policies when scheduling the Trump rally (We still have not received answers to those questions). Those concerned about fairness should continue to push for answers to those questions, and VSU may need to change its rental policies to come more inline with its rental practices or the other way around.

But VSU is our school and perhaps the most important institution in the area. We should be supporting Valdosta State University as much as we criticize it because it is upholding our most important right as Americans: our right to free speech.

VSU became a hotbed for discussions about free speech last year when VSU student Eric Sheppard held a series of protests with a campus group in which they walked on an American flag. Sheppard was later arrested for allegedly having a gun on campus, and the whole incident sparked a large flag-waving rally which caught the attention of national media.

Lots of people were upset with how VSU handled the Eric Sheppard incident, but they did it by the book.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled twice that desecrating an American flag is protected speech, even though U.S. code dictating how a flag is to be handled still exists.

And even though it offends the sensibilities of most Americans, VSU police acted appropriately when they detained a veteran who stole Sheppard’s flag and later released her when Sheppard’s group elected not to press charges.

VSU stood by its students who were exercising their right to free speech by walking on an American flag. VSU then stood by the community when hundreds circled the school waiving that same flag.

VSU is again supporting free speech by allowing Donald Trump to rent its P.E. Complex and speak during a rally tonight.

It would have been wrong of the school to turn him away.

As for the designated protest areas, well, you’ll have to take those free speech concerns up with Congress and the Supreme Court. VSU has no say in those matters.

Are there legitimate concerns about the diversity of guests and speakers coming to VSU and the Valdosta area? Certainly, although a visit from Hilary Clinton would have probably earned the school the same amount of backlash.

Personally, I would love a national figure with a more enlightened perspective to grace our town, but it doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

Are there other issues concerning VSU and free speech that should be addressed? Certainly, no one is perfect.

But love him or loath him, Trump is coming to Valdosta State University, and a national spotlight will be shining briefly, once again, on our town.

The event is exciting.

The protests of the event are exciting.

And the fact that we are home to a school which values free speech should be exciting, and the community should be supportive.


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Filed in: Editorials, Opinion

4 Comments on "Editorial: VSU deserves credit for stance on free speech"

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  1. dixie&trixie says:

    People are not protesting VSU’S stance on freedom of speech but the fact that they didn’t follow their own policy

  2. Brandi Blair says:

    I’m all for free speech. While I don’t personally agree with the way Eric Sheppard was expressing himself, I recognize that VSU did the right thing by protecting his right to do so. The protests about the graduation changes will either prove themselves out as it causes scheduling difficulties and shortages of accommodations for parents or Valdosta will be able to handle it. The issue with Donald Trump is different. My first and foremost concern is that the needs of the students and faculty of the school MUST come first. This is the week before or of midterms for the students on campus, including the commuters. Yes. The PE center can handle the rally, but can the local traffic patterns? Does the campus have an extra 2000 parking spaces when classes are in session? If they don’t, then VSU should have said no and recommended other venues.

    • Ginny says:

      I completely agree and as one of those commuters let me tell you that it was miserable. They sent out an email telling us to allot more time to find parking but I left my house 30 minutes early and still couldn’t find a spot. I ended up being 15 minutes late for chemistry and we have a midterm this Wednesday.

  3. Pancho Rambeaux says:

    Wrong. VSU administration erred during the Eric Sheppard protest by not protecting him from attack by that woman. VSU allowed Ben Carson to speak on campus without any conditions, such as allowing students to be present unless they had a purchased ticket. Now with Trump they allow a bigot, racist to rant while kicking out students who had followed the procedures but were black and Trump had them removed. This is just another in a long line of missteps that are destroying the reputation and credibility of the University.