University of Central Florida students have mixed reactions towards the closure of the “Free Assembly Area” by the Student Union.This free speech zone, located on the grass, just east of the Chic-Fil-A deck, closed at the start of the Fall semester.
Students, like Alexander Zimmerman, walking through the bustling heart of campus, were taken back upon discovering wooden fencing surrounding the prime location that used to be used for expressing free speech at UCF.
“It was the most recognizable, visible spot for free speech on campus”,Zimmerman, a junior studying history, said. “It sounds more like an excuse to me cause I mean its still there. Now they’ve just made any possible pedestrian path even smaller by blocking it off with these poles.”
At the beginning of the fall semester, the area was “rezoned due to the construction and pedestrian traffic, an additional area was added to the north side of the Student Union,”Office of Student Involvement Director Shane Juntunen said, in an email from Assistant Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Communications Dr. Briant Coleman’s account.
The additional Free Assembly Area, one of now seven across campus, is located between the exits of the north and east Student Union boardwalks, with a retention pond laying behind it.
Some students like Zimmerman do not believe this new zone is as good as the previous zone outside the union.
“Poor visibility, no one can see you there. You can’t get your message out”, Zimmerman said, in response to the new zone’s location.
Non-university organizations and persons are restricted to these seven Free Assembly zones across campus.
However not all students feel that this free speech zone closure is a bad thing.
Gabrielle Ferguson welcomed change to the atmosphere around the Student Union.
“I feel like before, the only people who would hang around there were those people that would like yell at people and they would just be kind of obnoxious,” Ferguson said.”There’s a lot of traffic over here so its just kind of a bunch of negativity in the area and I didn’t really like that.”
Camelia Del Valle, a junior studying health sciences, echoed this belief: “The closing of the free speech zone was good for when we had non-student people talking there. I think it was pretty uncomfortable sometimes,” she said. “I think it is better to keep the area student friendly.”
Juntunen stressed that “students and RSO are not restricted to Free Assembly locations and have more options available to them”.
UCF regulations, however, have limited the areas in which students can express their first amendment right.
According to UCF regulations, university organizations and university-related organizations may not “participate in demonstrations and other exercises of free speech and assembly” in several areas, including,”in grounds immediately adjacent to University residential facilities”,”grounds associated with the Burnett House”,and athletic facilities.
Regardless of the atmosphere or regulations, some students, like Brad Aldridge, feel this closure reflects growing tensions across college campuses.
“Tensions are already high on campus as it is, this just adds fuel to the fire.” Aldridge, a senior studying political science said.”I’m upset about the free speech zone being closed. I think it needs to be reopened so people can have their voices heard on campus.”