By Rachel Duke
Promoting patriotism isn’t easy on college campuses, even in Texas. September 2010 was the first time the 9/11: Never Forget Project was held at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas.
I heard about the 9/11: Never Forget Project while serving as an intern at YAF’s National Journalism Center summer 2010 internship program in Washington, D.C. I wanted to use the 9/11: Never Forget Project to unite our community in remembering – and honoring – the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
To my amazement and great disappointment, I was confronted with a maze of bureaucratic hurdles at SMU, resistance to the patriotic message of the 9/11: Never Forget Project, and a last minute attempt by SMU administrators to derail the program.
BUREAUCRATIC HURDLES: CROSSING MY “T’s” AND DOTTING MY “I’s”
Below is a list of some of the “bureaucratic hurdles” I encountered:
1) At SMU, individual students are not allowed to sponsor a university event. After contacting over 30 student organizations and departments (including the College Republicans), only SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts was willing to sponsor the event.
2) Some administrators insisted that displaying only American flags on campus dishonored the memory of the people from 89 other countries who were also killed. I was convinced that this was a pretense to interfere with the event. My response was, “Thousands of innocent people from all walks of life and from diverse backgrounds lost their lives that day on American soil. The American flags honor their deaths every bit as much as it honors the deaths of American citizens.” Ultimately, they capitulated.
3) I received contradictory e-mails from various administrators as to the area to be used for flag placement. Also, I was told at the last minute that the event date needed to be changed to accommodate an SMU football game, even though my request for use of the grounds had been approved weeks before. After many e-mails and phone calls, tent placement for the game was postponed until late Friday afternoon. However, all 2,977 flags had to be removed by 5 p.m. on September 10th.
4) A number of top administrators at SMU objected to the date of the event because it coincided with the last day of Ramadan. They accused me of being cruel and insensitive. I responded by reminding them that Muslims and people of many faiths were tragically killed and that this event had no “anti-Muslim” or religious agenda.
5) On the day before the 9/11 Project, I had to gain “reapproval” of the event because I was told I would need “noise control approval” for a sound system. The memorial service and sound system had been approved and signed-off on by a key college administrator weeks before. Fortunately, I was able to get the approval quickly. The “helpful” administrator who informed me at the last minute of this requirement came to the event prepared to shut us down, thinking that I had not gotten the necessary approval.
6) The memorial service speaker location, which had been approved by administrators, was changed at the last minute because of an alleged “mix-up.” I was told that we would have to move the location because the flagpole “had been previously reserved by another organization.” At noontime on the day of the event, no other organization appeared at the flagpole, nor was the area around the flagpole being “staged” for another event at this time.
LAST MINUTE FRONTAL ASSAULT: WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, START A FIGHT
Thirty minutes before the memorial service, SMU’s campus chaplain arrived with SMU’s chief of police and another top SMU administrator. He began angrily shouting at a community volunteer, “How can you be a Christian, how can you believe in Jesus, if you are willing to display these posters (i.e., the YAF posters) and have this event on the last day of Ramadan...” I walked over to him and respectfully listened as he turned his ire towards me.
He had no response when I asked him why he had not contacted me sooner to discuss this matter. I suggested that he talk with the guest speaker to assure himself that there was no political agenda. The chaplain did meet with the speaker, and the memorial service speech took place.
I believe this was a last-ditch effort to provoke me or my volunteers to cause a disorderly scene in order to create a pretense for shutting down the event.
WHY THE PROJECT IS WORTH THE HASSLE
Despite these ‘negative’ things, I look back on the 9/11: Never Forget Project with great joy.
1) The event took place despite official opposition.
2) Thousands of students passed by the flag display. Many knelt and prayed. At least 10-to-12 students came by our booth and circled the names of those they knew who were killed in the attacks. Others brought pictures of those killed. Students were provided free copies of the Constitution.
3) Many students remarked how much they appreciated the display and wondered if this was going to take place again next year.
SUGGESTIONS FOR THOSE WHO DESIRE TO SPONSOR A 9/11 PROJECT:
1) Avail yourself of the excellent YAF 9/11: Never Forget Project resources (Available here).
2) Comply to the letter with every published procedure on your campus.
3) Don’t give up. Identify early those who may be your “friends” and those who may be your “foes.”
4) Expect to be treated as a dangerous radical.
Rachel Duke is a graduate of Young America's Foundation's National Journalism Center.