After widespread backlash, including a letter from the governor of Texas, Southern Methodist University has reversed its controversial ruling that students' annual 9/11 memorial — about 3,000 miniature American flags displayed in the heart of the Dallas campus — would have to move to a less-prominent spot, WFAA-TV reported.
Things heated up after the school posted a policy in July saying all displays on Dallas Hall lawn would have to move "to avoid messages that are triggering, harmful or harassing,” the Dallas Morning News reported. The new location? Morrison-McGinnis Park, also known as MoMac Park.
But on the same day that stories hit the national news cycle last week about SMU's decision, the school revised the policy's wording — but stuck to its decision.
“SMU respects the rights of all campus community members to express their opinions, as well as their right to be free from coercion and harassment. The policy has been further updated to better reflect this balance and to remove the poor wording regarding triggering or harmful messages,” the school said in a written statement, the Morning News noted.
It didn't matter to Republican Gov. Gregg Abbott, who sent a letter to SMU President R. Gerald Turner last week asking him to restore the display to its “traditional place of honor” on Dallas Hall lawn where it's been since 2010.
“This display is not political. It is not partisan. It is not controversial. This is about our nation united,” Abbott wrote. “Each flag represents a life taken, the soul of a family destroyed. Yet each flag also represents a symbol of hope, for as a people united we remain unbowed. I ask that the 9/11 display not be relegated to a far corner of campus. It should be celebrated in its heart."
Finally, SMU said Wednesday the lawn displays can stay on Dallas Hall lawn with an agreement that provides "open spaces for studying, classes, events and recreation," WFAA reported.
Student organizations and university departments can place one-day displays on the northern part of the lawn while three-day displays can be placed on the southern part of the lawn, the station said, citing the school's announcement.
“I thank the students from across campus who came together in the spirit of mutual respect and civil discourse to achieve this outcome,” Turner said, WFAA reported. “Throughout these discussions, students have expressed their commitment to freedom of expression — a value the university shares.”
Last week's controversy had students outraged — particularly those from the SMU’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, which is behind the 9/11 display.
“I don’t believe it’s the responsibility of the university to shield individuals from certain ideas that they might be offended by,” Grant Wolf, who heads the group, told the Morning News.
And it wasn't just conservative students who were up in arms. Leaders from SMU’s College Democrats and Feminist Equality Movement joined YAF along with College Republicans, Mustangs for Life and Turning Point USA in sending a letter to Turner detailing their frustration and disappointment, the paper said.
“People absolutely have to have a right to their own opinions, but this does not come with a right to be shielded from opposing ideas, especially in an environment dedicated to the learning, sharing and developing of new ideas,” the letter said, according to the Morning News.