Space Invaders on Johnson Plaza

Space Invaders

Remember Space Invaders?

The Good: George Mason University (GMU) earns an A for handling a number of competing interests in conjunction with our visit earlier this week.  The Bad: We are not happy that it has taken 8 months for Students for Life to become registered as a student group, so that they can enjoy the same rights as other groups on campus.  The Ugly: Because the Students for Life group wasn’t allowed to even discuss event planning for the past 8 months, a conflict was created that could have been avoided.

Organizing a Student Group.  At GMU, recognized student groups can do things that individuals and non-recognized groups can’t do, such as reserve space, host events, etc.  It’s a big deal.  Recognition requires that the students find a faculty sponsor (i.e., a university employee) to sanction their club.  If you can’t find a sponsor from the eligible pool of university employees, you have fewer rights (unless you are willing to challenge the system in court, which we would do if we had to).

Finding a leftist professor is easy.  Although liberals comprise only 20% of the American population, they are 72% of all college professors.  Finding a conservative professor is much harder, especially one that has tenure and isn’t job-scared.

This whole system can create a burden that would never survive a judicial review.  How could any attorney argue that the university doesn’t discriminate against conservative students, it’s the university employees (i.e., the faculty) who discriminate, and the university can’t be held accountable for the actions of their employees!  It would never fly, but how many students really understand how to fight back?

Because the Students for Life couldn’t get registered, they couldn’t even talk to event planning staff about planning GAP, reserving space, or anything else.  Finally, as the end of the school year approached, we were out of options.  We chose a date and notified GMU that we had been invited by students, registered or not, and we were determined to accept.

Space assigned. After receiving our letter, GMU assigned us a location on Central Johnson Plaza to erect the GAP display.  The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Questioning (LGBTQ) group had reserved East Johnson Plaza (a better space) for Pride Week 2012 activities, which is fine.  It is common for concurrent activities to share the East Plaza, but the LGBTQ group had reserved the entire East Plaza for their exclusive use, so we were offered the next-most desirable space, which was still visible to most passersby.  (See map below.)

However, the LGBTQ group was none too happy that the pro-life students had been granted space within view of East Plaza.  They needed only part of East Plaza for their activity, but they wanted everything in sight.  We absolutely respect the right of any student group to reserve space for whatever activity they would like to hold, but one group of students shouldn’t be able to reserve their own space and also reserve away everybody else’s rights.

First Amendment good for all. Meanwhile, the Patriots for Choice student group, who came out to protest GAP, were initially assigned space way down on the West Plaza, which might as well have been on another planet.  We lobbied for them to be granted better space.  For the First Amendment to mean anything, it belongs to all of us, so we must defend that freedom for even our fiercest foe.  Eventually, GMU officials allowed the pro-abortion students to move up to a better location.  In fact, they occupied space on the East Plaza, previously reserved by the LGBTQ group.  Seems they are allied in opposition to the pro-lifers.  We welcomed that move.

Sound. On Day 2, we would like to have set up our sound equipment for Open Mike.  This GAP kiosk allows anybody to pose a question to CBR and hear the answer.  Speakers amplify the sound for any crowd that might gather.  Unfortunately, amplified sound tends to disregard space reservations and just fly all over the place.  Being good citizens, we didn’t believe we could broadcast sound that might interfere with the prior reservation held by the LGBTQ group, so we decided not to do it.  We hope that we can return for an Open Mike session during a future Choice Chain event.

What the parties needed, wanted, and got.

What the parties needed, reserved, wanted, and got.

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