SGA members meet to discuss bills on free speech, renaming domestic violence fund

Photo and story by Ethan Clark / Contributing Writer

Senators of Middle Tennessee State University’s Student Government Association met Thursday afternoon in the Parliamentary Room of the Student Union Building to discuss a new slate of bills and resolutions pertaining to campus life.

The first bill, introduced by Sen. Abbigail Thomson, would honor former MTSU women’s basketball player Tina Stewart by renaming the school’s $5,000 fund to educate students on domestic violence in her honor.

“We’re giving it another name, and we’re giving it to someone to give out those funds,” Thomson said. “The nonviolence committee on campus is going to be the ones that are choosing the applications and who will receive the money, so it’s just a more centralized path for these funds.”

Stewart was a member of the MTSU women’s basketball team in the early 2010s, playing in over 14 games in her last season. Stewart was killed by her roommate in a domestic dispute in March 2011.

Growing up in Murfreesboro, Thomson said she grew up a fan of MTSU basketball games. Thomson and her sister went to Stewart’s last game and got her and her teammates to sign a basketball for them. After Stewart’s death, Thomson decided to honor the player by giving the ball to Stewart’s parents.

“It’s kind of like what we want to do with this legislation,” Thomson said. “Dedicate this legislation to Tina Stewart’s family in the same way that we kind of dedicated that basketball.”

The second item was a resolution introduced by Sen. Simone LeClaire that would allow for the establishment of a loading zone for the apartment buses that transport students to and from campus. The original proposal back in September called for the establishing of a pavilion in the parking lot between the James E. Walker Library and the John Bragg Media and Entertainment Building, but this new resolution would assign the loading zone to an area beside the parking lot behind the Walker Library.

“Since (MTSU is) having the whole parking lot destroyed and having a parking garage built in, it’s automatically going to cut off that access for those buses to be there,” LeClaire said, referencing her conversations with MTSU’s parking services department and its plans to renovate the lot between the Walker Library and Bragg Media Building.

The final order of business for the day was a bill introduced by Sen. Chance Cansler that would call for MTSU to adopt the ‘Chicago Principles’ on First Amendment protections. Citing an organization called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Cansler said FIRE had graded MTSU’s rules for free speech on campus poorly and urged senators to adopt measures that would resolve this problem.

“The Chicago Principles say if we disputed someone, we’re not going to stop them from speaking,” Cansler said. “Instead we’re going to vigorously oppose what they say, and we’re going to vigorously debate them.”

SGA members debated the resolution, concerned over the bill’s wording, its specific intent and how this would affect MTSU’s minority communities.

 Sen. Dalton Slatton called the bill’s relevancy into question. 

Cansler said a Black Lives Matter meeting last year had been forced to relocate from the Walker Library after MTSU told them to go outside.

Sen. Bre’Yhana Johnson questioned the legitimacy and accreditation of FIRE. Cansler responded by saying that the organization was a watchdog group that graded over 400 universities around the U.S. every year on their laws protecting first amendment rights on campuses.

Johnson and other senators also raised concern over whether changes in MTSU’s free speech laws would act as an invitation for more hate groups on campus and put the campus’ minority communities at risk. Cansler said he disagreed with these concerns and said it would be better to allow these people to speak on campus.

“It’s dialogue, not just shutting it down,” Cansler said. “It’s listening to these guys who have terrible ideas and saying, ‘You have a terrible idea. I disagree with that vigorously.’”

Cansler did not specify which MTSU laws would be changed, should they adopt the Chicago Principles.

All of the day’s bills and resolutions will be put up for a vote next Thursday.

MTSU’s SGA meets every Thursday at 4:30 in the Parliamentary Room of the Student Union Building.

To contact News Editor Andrew Wigdor, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com.

For more news, follow us at www.mtsusidelines.com, on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter at @Sidelines_News.

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  1. absmtsuf2017
    Nov 17, 2017 - 10:18 PM

    I am so glad that the Student Government Association at MTSU is debating First Amendment rights and protections. I would like to know why the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) graded MTSU’s rules for free speech poorly. However, it seems that the suggestion of adopting “The Chicago Principles” on campus is a smart move. These principles, which were adopted by the University of Chicago several years ago, allow for all groups/individuals to speak on campus unless their speaking disrupts the functionality of the University. However, also according to these principles, just as groups/individuals have the right to speak on campus, other groups/individuals have the right to express their disapproval of the ideas being communicated. According to University of Chicago President Robert M. Hutchins, “Our students … should have freedom to discuss any problem that presents itself.” He also said that the “cure” for ideas we oppose “lies through open discussion rather than through inhibition.” (https://freeexpression.uchicago.edu/page/statement-principles-free-expression)

    I do believe that if we are to truly have free speech on campus, all must be allowed to speak and voice their opinions. However, it is the responsibility of the members of the University’s community to speak out against ideas or opinions that it disagrees with. I am glad to see our SGA taking steps to improve our freedom of speech on campus, and it seems that our senators having a serious debate about the implications of this. It will be interesting to see how this affects our campus community.

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