Sunday, April 18, 2010

The First Amendment Area

For our on-campus writing assignment, I led my group-mates over by the Campus Green. As we strolled up, I felt like we wouldn't be the only ones to write about the green, so I pointed out the First Amendment Area as a potentially intriguing point of interest. I was astonished to find out the other gents in my group were not aware of this little spot. Later, I was even more astonished to find out that our professor had not heard of it either. Perhaps astonished is too strong of a word. After all, the First Amendment Area (FAA) is a little piece of land between the Campus Green and the Burruss Building. It is a squared off by railroad ties and is covered in gravel. The space is probably about 100 square feet. The only thing that marks it as the First Amendment Area is a little sign on a tiny post. The sign sits about 6’’ off the ground. Legally, the FAA is a place, but it clearly aims to be a non-place. The only way you would know about the First Amendment Area is by being really, really observant.

I have seen protests of one thing or another taking place outside of this little sand box. Clearly with this specially designated area, KSU is reserving the right to shut any protest down if it becomes too disruptive. Since not many people seem to know about the FAA, it is likely that most protests are going to occur outside of it. Combined with the fact that the FAA does not allow room for many people, KSU is virtually guaranteed to be within its legal rights to squelch almost any demonstration that reaches a level of participation as to be described as massive. (One other factor that makes KSU’s campus particularly peaceful: the complacency of the mostly middle class student body).

Protesting on a college campus is as American as baseball and apple pie. Without disruptive demonstrations and spontaneous expressions of anger and discontentment, African Americans and women would still be second-class citizens. There would be virtually no laws or safeguards protecting laborers. The consciousness of the public would almost never be alerted to injustice. Cynics scoff and snicker at those who exercise their First Amendment rights calling them “dirty hippies” and other epithets.

The FAA is a reminder of what we think about the First Amendment in the U.S. in 2010. When it comes down to it, it is a nuisance – barely worth recognizing or protecting. I don’t know how other college campuses choose to address the issue. I suspect that there are numerous other FAA’s across America. If KSU is symptomatic of other college campuses, then what we have is the systemic suppression of expression by the various administrations of their respective student bodies. Of course, in 2010 the student bodies (including people like me) more than oblige their administrators by ignoring issues of war and social justice and instead busy themselves with sports, celebrity gossip, binge drinking, and the frivolity of being young and beautiful (like me).

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