Dean Sam L Grogg, head of the School of Communication, has begun to put in motion plans to designate the Wolfson building courtyard as a free-speech zone. Though the entire campus is technically a free-speech zone, Grogg said the courtyard, which is being renamed the Common Ground, will be a location that celebrates the country’s first amendment and the freedoms it protects.
“It can become a place that the campus can rely upon for dialogue,” he said. “It really was motivated by what I saw in the courtyard in the interaction between students and professors.”
Though this may seem similar to the purpose of The Rock, Grogg sees it as complement to that venue, not competition.
“The long-term goal is to make it as recognizable as a place for free speech as Hyde Park,” Grogg said.
Referring to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park in London, a universally recognized forum where people are able to express their opinions freely, Grogg continually emphasized the importance of free expression rights.
“These [rights] are so precious and I fear we take them for granted,” he said.
To encourage any student who wishes to make his or her opinions public, Grogg wants a permanent soap box or platform be erected for anyone to use.
“There are monuments we create to stand for an idea and [the courtyard] can stand for freedom of expression,” he said.
Tanya Carpenter, junior, had not yet heard about the plans for the courtyard.
“I think it’s a good thing for people to have their own say,” Carpenter said. “It’s a good idea so you can [hear] different opinions from different people.”
Other students, such as Ryan Gregg, sophomore, also see promise for the plan. Gregg said he believes as long as discussion is not one-sided and not simply someone preaching, the courtyard idea will interest students.
“I think that it’s a way to decrease close-mindedness and open debate,” Gregg said. “I think that it will start out small, but the message will spread and it will grow in time because people will have a place to vent.”
The formal commemoration of the courtyard is expected to occur during Communication Week in March.
“Programming [in the courtyard] will wrap itself around freedom of the press and freedom of speech,” Grogg said.
The dean said that a plaque with the new name will indicate the role of the courtyard. Grogg also said he wishes for the first amendment to be displayed in several languages to emphasize that these rights have no border or language barrier.
“We want people to remember these are human rights, not civil rights,” he said.
But, according to Grogg, this is not simply a name change.
“We also want it to be an arena to display the work of the students,” he said.
Grogg would like television screens in the courtyard to showcase the work of Communication students in what he calls a “living exhibit,” among other additions.
“We are going to plan other events [and] adapt the space for various seating configurations,” he said.
The first event to be held in the courtyard will be Monday at 6 p.m., featuring Thomas Friedman, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the New York Times, who will discuss his best-selling book The World is Flat. His remarks will be followed by a question-and-answer session involving students and faculty.
Greg Linch can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.