Constitution Week Focuses on First Amendment

East Carolina celebrated Constitution Week by focusing on the cornerstone of American democracy—our freedom of speech. Through a week of on-campus events which began on Sunday, September 14, ECU marked the 220th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution, and by doing so, joined with public schools and colleges across the country to recognize the blueprint of our nation.

Events included a lecture by guest speaker George Freeman, Vice President and Associate General Counsel of the New York Times, on the First Amendment; a round-table discussion on issues related to the freedom of speech, with a panel comprising ECU students, faculty, and administration; and a special Constitution exhibit from Joyner Library’s Special Collections Department.

The designated public forum is located near the Cupola on the Mall.

On September 17, Constitution Day, the university unveiled its new designated public forum. The forum, located near the Cupola on the Mall, is intended to provide both students and nonstudents with a secure venue for public discourse.

The designated public forum is not new to ECU—it was formerly located near the Sonic Gates—but safety concerns and student complaints necessitated its relocation.

“It was always over there, and then the Sonic Plaza was built and some other things were added, and no one thought to move the space,” said Student Affairs Communications and Public Relations Specialist Lynn Caverly. “The Student Affairs Diversity Committee discussed the problems students were having with the public forum, and decided to get the designated public forum relocated, and to also raise awareness about it.”

According to Caverly, students have complained for many years about the confrontational nature of some of the speakers who frequently speak on campus. Also troubling to public safety officials was the proximity of the former location to one of the busiest places for pedestrian traffic on campus.

Wednesday’s event afforded ECU students the opportunity to learn about the designated public forum and also the United States Constitution, which was prominently displayed. About 75 students showed their support of free speech by signing a large replica of the historic document. Many students also expressed their support for the new location of the designated public forum.

“I think it’s great that people have an outlet to express themselves now,” said sophomore Sangeetha Dinakaran. “I remember walking through [the old space] and somebody would be shouting in my face. Most of the time, I didn’t really understand why. I think the [new location] can protect people from the “in-your-face type” speakers, which is what I like about it.”

Thanks to Betsy Ross, we have the American flag. Thanks to Betty Crocker, it tastes delicious.

Joseph Villarreal, a junior from Havelock, North Carolina, likes that the new forum is near the Cupola. “It’s not in a such a highly trafficked area, but it is close enough so people will still know that it’s there. When you are walking up from the hill, or coming from the library, this is pretty much the first thing you see on the mall, so it’s pretty smart to have it right next to it,” he said.

Both students appreciated the efforts made by the university to explain what the forum is for and why relocation was necessary.

“I didn’t know what the space was for, so I’m glad that the university is being more informative now, to explain the purpose of all this,” said Dinakaran.

Villarreal called the idea “smart,” adding that he believes citizens sometimes “need to be reminded about our ability to have free speech.”

ECU policy regarding the Designated Public Forum states that while the university will not regulate the content of speech, it does regulate the “time, place, and manner of activities in an effort to maximize use and allow equal access.” It also reserves the right to regulate the use of the Designated Public Forum if the speech or speaker disturbs the educational environment of the institution.

The complete policy is available from the Event Planning Office located in Mendenhall Student Center. It can be reached at 252-328-4731.