CCU leaders to amend policy guiding poster approvals, following protest against ‘inciting content’ on campus

Published: Feb. 21, 2022 at 8:34 PM EST
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CONWAY, S.C. (WMBF) - Coastal Carolina University says it’s making serious changes to how certain free speech content is approved for students.

This comes after a particular poster displayed across the campus sparked outrage and disapproval among students and neighbors in the black community.

The movement for change started Friday after the Board of Trustees met with students who disapproved of a poster, all while a peaceful student led-protest took place in front of the Singleton Building.

The content in question is a poster CCU leaders acknowledged was approved, stating, “This poster went through the prescribed process for approval and was subsequently signed off on after revisions were made, with a conclusion—per our current policy—that its content fell within the protected speech area of the First Amendment.”

But the question on the table: Does this poster meet first amendment protections if the words are considered to be inciting?

On this poster, the a logo reads: 'Turning Point USA of Coastal Carolina.’
On this poster, the a logo reads: 'Turning Point USA of Coastal Carolina.’(CCU student)

The poster in question has a picture of Civil Rights Leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with the American flag behind him.

Some have noted ‘Jr.’ is not capitalized on the poster.

Besides King’s picture is one of his well-known quotes: “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Above those quotes is an arrow with the word love, next to it is a logo that reads ‘Turning Point USA of Coastal Carolina.’ There’s a heart beside it.

At the very bottom of the poster reads the following, “Celebrate Black History Month and Valentine’s Day by choosing love over Critical Hate Theory.” Below that quote is the name of the student who is believed to be the person who created the poster.

Below the quote is the name of student who is believed to be the person who created the poster.
Below the quote is the name of student who is believed to be the person who created the poster.(CCU student)

Some students and faculty say those words were intentionally written as wordplay directed at ‘Critical Race Theory,’ with a goal of upsetting and inciting students who saw it. Some further question why the poster was approved to be displayed at all.

A CCU Journalism professor says one major issue with the words on the poster: Critical Hate Theory doesn’t exist.

“There is no such thing as Critical Hate Theory,” said Dr. Wendy Weinhold, associate professor of Journalism at CCU. “And Critical Race Theory is a theory that is taught in legal institutions, in law schools. It’s not something that’s taught on our campus. There are certainly important issues of critical media literacy that I teach, issues of race, its history, its future, its role in America. But Critical Race Theory is a very complex, specific theory taught at law schools. I think they were really just trying to play on words to get people [stirred up]. It worked. Now the question is what is the university going to do about it?”

That question is being echoed by students like Tyrik Pierre. He’s a junior studying Marketing at CCU.

On Friday, he spoke to the board of trustees about the poster.

“I think it was encouraging hate,” Pierre said. “A little bit distasteful and used inciting language and we didn’t appreciate that as a black community and allies of the black community didn’t appreciate it. We stood up and spoke our minds; started with a letter shared with student leaders. Then myself and fellow student Amos Wise delivered our words [before the board of trustees]. We spoke about the policy needing to be changed.”

And after hearing from students like Pierre on this issue, campus leaders say they’ll be making immediate changes to the school’s poster policy.

In a letter addressed to current CCU students and faculty, president Michael T. Benson stated the student who made the posters agreed to take them all down.

Benson also said the material itself was inciting:

“While the poster may have been deemed “protected speech,” its carefully-constructed use of certain words, an opinion-based indirect reference to critical race theory—and even an image of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with this quote: “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”—was created with a goal to incite. This is exactly what happened and we have heard from students since Monday evening what hurtful and damaging collateral impact this message has had on many within our campus community. At a peaceful demonstration after our Board of Trustees meeting Friday, students of color expressed their profound disagreement with the poster’s content. When asked directly by students if he would take it down, the student who created the poster agreed to do so. He has reported the posters have now been removed.I thank all the students who gathered in front of the Singleton Building on Friday to peacefully demonstrate and to engage in dialogue. However, we heard from them that the time for conversations—while very important and critical to our ongoing improvement as an institution—has come and gone. Now is the time for action.”

“If things don’t change we won’t be quiet about that. We won’t be satisfied with just receiving a letter,” Pierre said.

CCU’S VP for executive initiatives/chief of staff Travis Overton says as written, the current ‘Free Speech, Solicitation, and Promotional Activities on Campus’ policy focuses greatly on protecting free speech for students.

He says they’re re-evaluating the process to make sure the policy doesn’t open the door for opportunities that incite students, so everyone knows they’re welcome on the campus grounds.

“It’s an absolute top priority,” Overton said. “We have to work to make sure all students feel this is a place they can exist and function peacefully to be able to pursue their academic career. When students have concerns, we absolutely want to work to hear those students, work to understand them, so we can determine the most appropriate response and steps we need to take. I think our goal is to be able to understand any steps that may have occurred in this process that we might need to review to determine if there are ways to help ensure all students feel heard and are a part of our campus.”

Although many of the students told WMBF News they want the policy changed, there were some who said they’re okay with any decision the university makes on this issue.

“If students feel uncomfortable with the poster they should automatically try to switch the policy and make people feel as comfortable as possible. But I can see both sides and I will be fine with anything they choose,” said student Renee Jimenez.

WMBF News has reached out several times to the organization listed on the poster, ‘Turning Point USA of Coastal Carolina,’ for a comment or statement. As of now, our news team is waiting for a response.

As for the policy changes, university leaders set a deadline of March 4 for everyone to share what they want in the first draft.

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