By Nina Rose, Editor in Chief
While most students were finishing up finals a couple of weeks ago, I confess I was doing something entirely different. But this requires some backstory.
Leading up to an event featuring pro-life activist Lila Rose, Live Action UCLA faced its own battle with free speech: if you’ve been reading this publication, you’d know that the club’s Bruin Walk sidewalk sign promoting the event was both vandalized and stolen. (Police were unable to identify a suspect in the case, and it has since been inactivated.) This is nothing new — last year, Live Action UCLA was compelled to enlist the UCPD for security at an event hosting Kristan Hawkins, the President of Students for Life of America, due to a threat from Refuse Fascism Los Angeles to “drive the fascists off campus.”
Following these events, I received a personal invitation to represent my club at the White House, where President Trump would be signing an executive order promoting free speech on campus. So, just 48 hours before my Friday final, I jumped on a plane and headed to D.C. to witness this remarkable moment.
Signed on March 21st, the executive order essentially requires universities to protect and promote free speech in order to receive federal funding. The order was first mentioned following an incident in which conservative activist Hayden Williams was assaulted on UC Berkeley’s campus. University of California President Janet Napolitano released a statement criticizing the order as “unnecessary.”
But for some, the order represents much more. At UCLA, threats to our club’s right to free speech have come from a few radical students and community members rather than the UCLA administration, but many students in attendance were not so fortunate as we. I sat next to Anthony Vizzone, a former University of Hawaii at Hilo student and Young Americans for Liberty member, who was barred from passing out copies of the United States Constitution on campus. The university administrator told him that he would have to relocate to a “free speech zone,” which occupied a muddy space on the edge of campus that comprised about a quarter of a percent of the campus land. Vizzone sued the school, which in a settlement agreed to revise its policy. When I asked him how he felt about being invited to hear Trump’s remarks, he said, “Words cannot express how amazing this is,” and that for him, the executive order was “a culmination of all the work I did in college, politically.”
As President Trump gave his remarks in the East Room, a few notable students stood with him on stage. Directly to his left was Ellen Wittman, the President of Students for Life at Miami University in Ohio. While planning an annual display of crosses to represent lives lost to abortion, Wittman’s pro-life group was told that they would have to place trigger warnings before the display, which they argued in a lawsuit “would undermine their display’s purpose and message.” After his speech, Trump invited Wittman to the podium. Wittman praised the order and expressed her belief in its necessity, saying, “I never imagined the hostility I would face when trying to express my beliefs [at Miami University]. It’s ridiculous that it has gotten to this point.”
While reactions to the executive order have ranged from enthusiastic praise to condemnation, some organizations such as FIRE, an organization which advocates for free speech at colleges and universities, are withholding judgement until the order is tangibly implemented. “FIRE will watch closely to see if today’s action furthers the meaningful, lasting policy changes that FIRE has secured over two decades — or results in unintended consequences that threaten free expression and academic freedom,” wrote the organization in a statement.
While it remains to be seen how the executive order will play out, I am happy that, at the very least, my club’s attempts at dialogue and exchange of ideas have not escaped notice — even by those at the top. If this order does what it purports to do — if it effectively addresses the suppression of free speech at an institutional level — then Live Action UCLA (and pro-life college students nationwide) can better reach across the aisle and foster courteous and challenging conversations about abortion on campus.