If you don’t already know, a speaker’s corner is a concept traced back to the U.K.’s past, when free speech rights were more limited than they are today. The most famous example is from Hyde Park in London. Its history of free speech extends back to the 1100s and has since allowed a plethora of radical debate and the sharing of ideas, as detailed by Atlas Obscura.
Think of it like a permanent free speech zone, like the one that was temporarily in place during the presidential debate at LMU in December. It’s a spot for you and anyone else in the community to express your opinions freely and for others to engage with those opinions.
Now, a similar corner at LMU wouldn’t have to just be limited to a literal platform for public discussion, as we have enough space to incorporate papers and other media. The corner would just need to have a space to solidify its legitimacy.
The perfect place to build this area would be right outside the Lair near Malone, replacing the glass panels that divide the outside tables from the tree and lion statue on the grass. People already stick dozens of posters for on-campus events, job listings and political opportunities onto those glass panels, so why not make the area a larger place for discussion?
My proposal would involve having to replace the glass panels with cork bulletin boards so that people wouldn’t have to use tape to hang papers up, dirtying up the glass and giving the panels an ugly appearance. With cork boards, people would approach the posted papers in order to see what the campus was thinking about rather than simply ignore them.
In large part, this supplementary idea is modeled after Pepperdine University’s Freedom Wall, which is described in Pepperdine’s Seaver College Student Organization handbook as “a venue for individual members of the community to respectfully express themselves.” One notable example of the Freedom Wall being used for good was in October, when a disabled senior student named Mackenzie Mazen photographed disabled parking spaces being taken up by garbage and unmarked vehicles in order to highlight accessibility issues and discrimination on campus, as reported by The Pepperdine Graphic.
As an LMU student, I normally wouldn’t write praise of a rival school like Pepperdine, but efforts like the Freedom Wall are commendable and should be replicated here.
Regarding the corner itself, a permanent platform placed near the lion statue would serve as the actual corner for anyone to express their views to anyone within earshot.
But why invest in a speaker’s corner if LMU already has a strong Freedom of Expression policy?
Easy: this policy hasn’t been seen enough on campus.
An initiative like this corner would just be a boost to issues LMU students and professors are already enthusiastic about, giving a more visible platform for those issues to really shine.
Think about how long clubs like ECO Students have tried to encourage LMU to divest from fossil fuels, particularly tar sands, an issue that’s been around since at least 2013. Imagine if there was a constant reminder about LMU’s contributions to the dirtiest oil on Earth, as described by the Sierra Club. Tons of people walk by Malone every single day; you’d think the message would be clear at that point.
Plus, think about what kind of message this would send. At a time when politicians, particularly Republican politicians (as highlighted by college lecturer Jeffrey Sachs in a piece for Arc Digital) are threatening to silence free speech, making what is essentially a monument to free expression would be a bold stance.
This idea obviously isn’t perfect, and like any system, it can be prone to abuse. Pepperdine’s own Freedom Wall has faced plenty of issues in recent years, from being hijacked by far-right groups like Turning Point USA in 2017 to homophobic comments in October, according to The Pepperdine Graphic. Those events, in turn, have sparked controversy on their campus. But if we’re not going to even offer the platform for that debate to occur, most of us will miss out on a lot of the strong ideas as well.
As we soon head into First Amendment Week, it’s important to keep the spirit of free discussion, open expression and protection from censorship alive and well on campus. We have the space to make something beautiful out of that spirit.
This is the opinion of Cristobal Spielmann, a sophomore environmental science major from Brentwood, Tennessee. Tweet comments @LALoyolan or email email@example.com.