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.