By Grace Oshin
“What pissed you off today?”
That’s the kind of question representatives from Young Ameri- cans for Liberty, a national organization, will be asking students during their first Liberty Dinner Wednesday, Sept. 28, at 7:30 p.m.in the Great Hall.
According to Pooja Bachani, the chapter president and founding member of the new club, YAL received approval (on a probationary basis, which is mandatory by Post programming for all new clubs on campus) from the school’s former programming specialist, Cheyenne Oberther (who resigned over the summer), on June 16, establishing it as an official club on campus.
“I had this great conversation with Cliff Maloney [CEO of YAL], Ty Hicks [National Field Director of YAL], and CJ Simpson [Former Director of Free speech] who told me about starting a YAL chapter at Post,” Bachani said. “I loved the idea, and so this is YAL. We believe in free speech. All I want to do is promote a space for the students, by the students, to come together as a community and just talk.”
Despite its new status, the group attracted 66 new members during the Campus Involvement Fair on Sept. 8.
Domonique Edwards, a junior business major, is one of the 66 students who signed up. “The giant beach ball made me curious,” Edwards said. “It made me want to find out more about YAL. I’m joining because I have a lot to say, and this is a great platform to allow me to speak my mind.”
According to the YAL organization website, it was founded in 2008, and is one of the fastest-growing pro-liberty organizations on America’s college campuses. A flyer, handed out by group members during the fair, said, “What are we about? Freedom! Liberty! Free Speech! Toleration!”
Bachani, who will be graduating in May 2017 with a masters degree in adolescent education in English, is motivated to educate her community on the importance of free speech.
“What does it mean to have free speech on a campus?” Bachani said. “I’m going to be honest, I didn’t know about this until I sought to learn it, and that, in turn, is what I would like to do for my community. How can we talk about it, if we don’t know what it means? How can we create a discussion about it in a community, without knowing what the community thinks?”
LIU Post is now among 700 YAL chapters across campuses nationwide that are focused on promoting and protecting free speech on campuses. “Roughly 93 percent of schools maintain unconstitutional speech codes,” according to Katie Barrows, communications director of FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education). “Additionally, students are starting to demand censorship of ideas that make them uncomfortable, which has resulted in a campus climate that is very hostile to free speech.” Both FIRE and YAL are ready to protect college students.
“From letters to lawsuits, FIRE defends student and faculty members when their rights have been violated,” Barrows said. “FIRE also rates campus policies on how well they protect free speech and works with students, faculty members, and administrators to reform speech codes.”
Students, like Kylie Garret, a junior broadcasting major, understand the importance of having an organization such as YAL on campus. “Students should always have the ability to voice their opinions openly and freely,” Garett said. “College is a marketplace for ideas, so administration shouldn’t try to censor what we say. I’m glad there’s an organization on campus ready to reform speech codes if necessary.”
Other students like Fatima Coleman, a freshman criminal justice major, wonder if having a free speech club will leave room for hate speech.
“I would love to join this club, but what if people say discriminatory or hurtful things during the meetings? I know the first amendment protects hate speech, so wouldn’t a free speech club have to do the same?”
Bachani understands students’ concerns about being in such an open environment.
“One thing that is asked of members and students entering the Liberty Dinner is to be respectful,” Bachani said. “Inherent in the tenant of free speech is acknowledging that there is a variety to free speech, and there is no limitation. Hate is not welcome, however you have the right to express your feelings, and I have no right to tell you not to because that would contradict my stance on free speech.”
Bachani encourages students to join. “Free speech matters because it will affect you for the rest of your life.”
Students who join YAL can expect monthly Liberty Dinners—free food in exchange for your thoughts on freedom, film screenings, guest Lectures, conferences, and opportunities for leadership & national internships.
YAL stresses that members are not obligated to come to every meeting, and will have a lot of opportunity for growth through leadership opportunities within the organization.
“It’s not obligatory, Bachani said. “You can come whenever you want. This is not meant to be a strain on your schedule. So, what pissed you off today? Let me give you some food, and let’s talk about it.”
For more information about YAL, you can contact Bachani directly at Pooja.Bachani@my.liu.edu, or you can visit the chapter website using this link: http://www.yaliberty.org/chapters/ long-island-university-c-w-post-campus