A giant beach ball covered in declarations ranging from expletives to “Black Lives Matter” to “Support Trump,” sat in front of Van Pelt Library Tuesday afternoon.
The ball was part of a free speech demonstration held by The Statesman, Penn's "alternative media publication.” Passers-by were encouraged to write anything they wanted on the ball as a way of supporting free speech on campus. The event garnered hundreds of participants.
College junior and Statesman Editor-in-Chief Maria Biery said the event was organized to address Penn's free speech culture, especially in light of recent backlash on a Facebook post made by Wharton sophomore Eric Hoover. In the post, Hoover sought to identity students who may be interested in joining a pro-life group on campus and received heated backlash from other students.
“I do think there should be a shift in the culture that surrounds our free speech,” Biery said. “I think we still do a pretty good job of hearing everyone’s opinions, but I think we need to be a bit more open.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education gave Penn a "green light" speech code rating — meaning its policies are highly protective of free speech rights — making it the only Ivy League school to achieve such a rating. Penn received a "yellow light" rating regarding free speech in its sexual harassment policy, however.
The large beach ball attracted the attention of many students walking through College Green, including College junior Michael Katzovitz. Katzovitz said she was unaware of Penn's free speech policies.
“I’m definitely not pro-censoring,” she said, signing the ball.
In addition to anti-censorship messages, the ball also attracted a colorful collection of political messages, profanity and silliness.
The Statesman has also endorsed free speech in other ways. In an opinion article published by the Statesman Tuesday, Biery thanked The Daily Pennsylvanian opinion writer Alessandro van den Brink for a piece he wrote for helping to foster a dialogue on campus, despite disagreeing with his position.
Suzanne Cruz, Pennsylvania field representative for the Leadership Institute, a partner to The Statesman, expressed a similar opinion.
“When you hear both sides, that’s an education. When you hear one side, that’s indoctrination," she said.
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