August 10, 2017
Dear SMU community members,
I’m pleased to share with you that SMU and student leaders reached an agreement yesterday to continue to have lawn displays, including the annual 9/11 memorial, on the Dallas Hall Lawn.
I thank the students who met with University officials to express their concerns about our initial decision to relocate the displays. In coming together, students representing a range of organizations engaged in discussions with administrators and each other to find common ground, exemplifying an effective way to resolve issues. Throughout the process, they demonstrated their commitment to the free exchange of ideas and civil discourse – a commitment that SMU as an institution of higher learning shares.
The discussions led us to an agreement that will better serve the needs of all campus community members in our shared use of the Dallas Hall Lawn. The lawn is a special place where campus community members gather for events and outdoor classes, and to study, relax and enjoy the beauty of our campus. When other University officials and I initially were considering a change in location for all lawn displays, our goal was to help preserve this open space. At the same time, we value a central, dedicated space where student organizations and University departments can express themselves through displays.
The students’ proposal strikes that balance. The lawn’s north side will continue to serve as a site for one-day displays, while displays up to three days will take place south of the fountain. At any one time, either the northern or southern section will be open for other uses.
Going forward, the University intends to review and amend Student Activities procedures and University policy regarding lawn displays. This review process will be undertaken in consultation with the student government and student community, including student organizations.
Regarding our initial plan to relocate all lawn displays to Morrison-McGinnis Park, I want to emphasize that no student, student organization, faculty member, outside group or any one else sparked that decision. In an error we deeply regret, the Student Activities guidance regarding displays was posted online July 17 without proper review. It contained language that was not in line with University policy and went far beyond the content-neutral guidance it was intended to provide. To be clear, the decision to relocate all displays was not based on this erroneous language.
Young Americans for Freedom was the first student organization to submit a request under this guidance on July 22, and their request for the annual 9/11 memorial was approved July 26. It would never have been denied. We thank the students for bringing this language to our attention.
My hope is that everyone reading this will have a better understanding of the events of the past week. Next month, we will join students and the broader SMU community on the Dallas Hall Lawn in honoring the memory of those lost on 9/11.
R. Gerald Turner