Beach ball circulates campus in promotion of free speech
As a Lee student rolls out of bed to get ready for the school day, he grabs a deflated beach ball, some markers and a bicycle pump.
These items were all he needs for a day of spreading the message of free speech.
The “free speech ball” was escorted around campus by members of the Young Americans for Liberty club, or YAL, on Thursday, Aug. 30, and again Wednesday, Sept. 5. The ball, according to senior political science major Christian Dawson, was an opportunity for open dialogue.
“A lot of [students] love writing random stuff, like ‘Cats are better than dogs’…but then there are some people literally on opposite sides of the ball,” Dawson said. “One person wrote ‘Make America Great Again—Trump 2020,’ but then, on the other side, somebody wrote ‘Impeach Trump.’”
Dawson is the president of the Lee University chapter of YAL as well as the Tennessee state chair of the national organization. He said the goal of the Lee chapter, comprised of ten Lee students, is to educate their peers on the ideas of liberty.
Dawson and the other YAL members said they wanted their peers not to fear differing perspectives and decided to use the beach ball, a staple of the national club, to best demonstrate Lee's diversity.
“It is very important at Lee—just as important as at a state university—that free speech is actually here so people know there is another side,” Dawson said. “Not everyone has the exact same beliefs.”
Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Dr. Matthew Melton said the free speech ball was a welcome exercise for the Lee community.
“I think the beach ball is a great idea,” Melton said. “A lot of universities are finding ways and space for students to express themselves in peaceful and meaningful ways. This looks to me to be a fun way to do that.”
Some students used the platform to sign their name. Others took the opportunity to make a declaration of belief. Senior pastoral ministries major Ashton Owens saw a group of students gathered around the ball writing their thoughts on Wednesday afternoon. One comment that stood out to him, Owens said, was “Racism is sin.”
The ball was decorated with dozens of comments, including “Build bridges, not walls” and “I love Jesus.” To Dawson, every comment was important because everything written on that ball cultivates the community of higher education.
“Once you start restricting people from saying things, you’re going to start stifling people’s education,” Dawson said. “If you’re never exposed to an alternate viewpoint, you’re never going to grow in your own.”
In a single hour, all the space on the ball was filled with remarks, both comedic and critical. Dawson said that this endeavor piqued many people’s interest.
Melton said he felt that, beyond celebrating free speech, this act can bring people together.
“It can help people know they are not alone,” Melton said. “So long as people don’t stoop to trolling or other counter-productive declarations, a quotable beach ball can actually be great group therapy.”