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Smith: Looking back on the first free speech wall

IMG_2364-1024x683.jpgEditor’s note: As part of a media transparency initiative, on May 8, 2017, the Collegian spent the last day of publishing of the year telling our readers about us. You can read more about the people behind our publication in the Editor’s BlogThis column is about “Students angered by ‘free speech wall’ built in Plaza,” originally published on October 11, 2016, and in the October 12, 2016 print edition of the Collegian.

The Collegian news desk knew something was up on Tuesday, October 11, 2016.

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Another news reporter received a tip the week before that something was going to happen on the Plaza that day, but we had no idea what. The news desk had been trying to figure it out since our news meeting the previous Thursday. When the wall started going up and a crowd gathered, the news desk realized that this story was going to be big.

For some reason, Erin Douglas and Seth Bodine, the news editors, decided that it was a good idea to let me, a freshman who had started a month before, cover the first free speech wall on the Plaza. Six months and 45 articles later, I’m flabbergasted that they were okay with it, and that they allowed someone with pretty much no experience to take what would be the second-biggest article of the semester.

I arrived on the Plaza at noon because we were told that the mystery event would start there. After waiting for fifteen minutes or so, nothing happened. I knew who I was looking for. I knew he would be doing something big, but he had not yet shown up. I began wondering if I was just wasting my time.

Just as I was about to leave, members of the Conservative Interest Group walked out onto the Plaza with a bunch of boxes, and began setting them up in a wall.

Once the wall was built, the crowd kept getting bigger and bigger.

For the next two hours, the crowd around the wall never fell below 20 people. Many were angered by the wall, even though it was open for anyone to write on. Colorado State University Democrats were a large and vocal section of the crowd, and they posted many Clinton-Kaine signs on the wall.

With so many people from the left and the right writing on the wall, it soon became a hodgepodge of political messages, including phrases such as “Love Trumps Hate,” “Proud Deplorable” and my personal favorite, “What did Harambe Know?”

Just before 2 p.m., the crowd reached its peak with about 100 people crowding around the wall. People were yelling, not listening to each other, hearing only what they wanted to hear. However, when the crowd had dwindled by 3 p.m., people were calmer, and they spoke to each other with respect and had real discussions.

This, along with the second free speech wall that occurred earlier during the Spring 2017 semester, has been one of my favorite events to cover this year. As a journalist, the First Amendment is my favorite amendment, and, despite some other purposes, this entire event celebrated the rights endowed to us by the First, and that is amazing to me.

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Collegian news reporter Stuart Smith can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @notstuartsmith

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