Georgia Southern responds to group escorted off campus free speech zone

Students were demonstrating as members of Turning Point USA, a conservative group aimed at college students. They were told they had to reserve the free speech zones on campus or they’d face disciplinary action. 

Kyle Clark

Last week a group of students at Georgia Southern University were asked by the police to stop demonstrating on campus in a “free speech zone.”

The students were demonstrating as members of Turning Point USA, a conservative group aimed at college students.

The incident began when the students were approached by GS staff and told to leave. They were told to fill out an application to present at the rotunda and went to do so.

However, they would not be able to have the application done the same day, and then went back to demonstrating.

This exchange and a further conversation with GS Police Department were recorded in a video available here.

“This isn’t the free speech area, that’s over there. But even then you have to reserve the free speech area,” an unidentified GS employee said in the video.

GS Police Department was then called to the scene. The officers told the group that they would be judicially referred for breaking policy if they continued to demonstrate without permission.

“They’re telling me you’re breaking policies, school policies. But if you’re asking me about laws, which is mainly what I do here, I don’t know of any laws you’re breaking,” the officer said.

According to GS’ Freedom of Expression policy a group not affiliated with GS may fill out a Designated Public Forum Area Request Form at least 48 hours in advance to speak in the public areas of campus. This is to prevent competing groups from speaking at the same and to ensure there is adequate staffing.

Since TP USA is not a group affiliated with GS, it is required to fill out this form even if there are GS students in attendance.

It is also of note that not all the people there for TP USA were GS students.

“Georgia Southern University students, faculty and staff are free to express their views, individually or in organized groups, orally, by sign or exhibit, on any topic, in all parts of campus,” Jennifer Wise, director of communications at GS, said.

Nicholas Wright, chapter president for Statesboro’s branch of TP USA, shared his thoughts on the incident. He was not on campus at the time of the incident but spoke with members who were.

“I understand the need for a policy for tabling to prevent conflicting with another student organization. However, I feel like public universities, in particular, are ‘free speech zones,'” Wright said.

The George-Anne will provide updates as they become available.

Kyle Clark, The George-Anne Assistant News Editor, [email protected]